Most animals in the Tehachapi Mountains employ some kind of camouflage to help them blend into their surroundings. These passive forms of concealment help both predator and prey.
In the case of prey animals, protective coloration is a life or death matter, for escaping notice by a predator can determine whether or not you make it alive through the day (or night). Deer, rabbits, squirrels, quail and other favored prey animals have subtle colors to help obscure their presence.
However, predators also rely on cryptic coloration, to enable them to get close enough to a meal to catch it before it escapes. Mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and foxes all have tawny or grayish coats that help them stay out of sight until they charge or pounce on prey.
And most predators, incidentally, are potentially prey themselves. Snakes are a good example: every snake species is a predator — we have no vegetarian snakes — and yet every single snake, including rattlesnakes, are also at risk of predation from raptors, roadrunners, coyotes, other snakes, etc.
The predominant kind of camouflage is called background matching, and this is what most animals use. They try to match the appearance of the habitat in which they spend most of their time. So our California Mule Deer, for example, wear earth tones to blend in with the gray oak trunks and sun-faded grasses of our oak woodlands, while Pacific Chorus Frogs can be green, tan or gray to match their surroundings.
Many insects, who face a vast array of potential predators, have taken background matching to an extreme -- katydids look just like green leaves, including the leaf veins. Walking sticks totally resemble twigs, as does the chrysalis of some swallowtail butterflies.
Another type of camouflage is called disruptive coloration, in which animals have strong light and dark markings that help disrupt the recognizable shape or outline of the creature. The chicks of some ground nesting birds, like killdeer or quail, have dark lines or patches that help conceal their outline. Some adult birds use certain feathers to disrupt their appearance, like Great Horned Owls using their feather tufts to help them blend in with the bark plates of an old oak tree. With their assorted spines and flattened bodies, horned lizards are difficult to spot and don't convey the outline of a typical lizard.
Some of our butterflies and moths exhibit disruptive coloration in the form of circular marks known as eyespots on their upperside of their wings. These do resemble eyes and can temporarily fool a predator. Other butterflies like commas, question marks and tortoiseshells have very irregular, jagged wing outlines that help them to not look like butterfly wings.
Among all these different tactics to blend in, there are a few animals that instead try to advertise their presence as a form of warning, because they possess chemical defenses that can protect them. This warning coloration is known as aposematism. Skunks, tarantula hawks, milkweed bugs, monarchs and female black widow spiders are among the brightly-marked creatures that want you to know in advance that they are not good to eat or fit to fool with.
But various kinds of cryptic coloration are the norm for most of our animal neighbors, who move through the landscape hoping to see, but not be seen.
Have a good week.
Jon Hammond has written for Tehachapi News for more than 30 years. Send email to email@example.com.