Vanishing through camouflage—to hide from predators or lurk for prey—is a wildlife adaptation that often goes unseen. Yet this collection of images from National Wildlife’s photo contest shows how hiding can be a work of art
ERMINE | Cleverly clad in winter white, an ermine pauses in deep powder while hunting for voles in Yellowstone National Park. “In the snow, these animals are incredibly hard to see,” says photographer Lance Gilliland, who was lucky to catch this sleek hunter’s rare pause. “I think there’s beauty in the way the animal blends.”
SEAHORSE | Tail clutching a knobby arm of fan coral, this pygmy seahorse—no bigger than a fingernail—perfectly matches the color and pattern of its chosen hideout some 90 feet below the sea in Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photographers Dan and John Cesere battled strong currents to capture this rare and remarkable portrait, a labor of love they call Sweetheart. “In nature,” says Dan, “there’s more than meets the eye—if you take the time to look.”
LION | While scanning the horizon in an arid stretch of Botswana’s Okavango Delta, photographer Patricia Rischar spotted splendor in the grass—a lion, his eyes trained on a nearby herd of zebra. “It’s incredible that he has coloration that allows such a large animal to hide and hunt as necessary,” says Rischar. “I love the importance of color in nature.”
LACEWING | Delicate in a coat of dew, a lacewing graces a stem of wild oat, its oval wings matching the plant’s translucent curves. Photographer Lisa Dunton caught this fleeting still life on an early morning walk through a park in Cupertino, California. “I love that I could see its eye looking back at me,” says Dunton. “It wasn’t just a bug. It mesmerized me.”
CRAB | A perfect match for its bed of sand—right down to the colored speckles—a tiny crab hides in plain sight on a beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. “I wouldn’t have seen it except it moved,” recalls photographer Kathy Lepper, who focuses on nature’s small details. “You wouldn’t think sand is so colorful until you get really close.”
LEAFHOPPER | Like a puzzle piece that doesn’t quite fit, a leafhopper methodically sucks the sap from a rain forest plant in Guyana, matching the leaf in minute detail, down to its ridges and veins. “I’ve spent a lot of time in the rain forest,” says photographer Pete Oxford. “The more you look, the more you find”—despite the cleverest of camouflage.
OWL | Nesting in a tree cavity in suburban Cocoa, Florida, this eastern screech-owl caught the eye of photographer William Kleinfelder. “I watched her push herself out, fluff up her feathers and back into the hole, perfectly blending into the tree,” he recalls. She had three owlets in this tree, unfazed by close proximity to people—including photographers.
SPIDER | Blending with the buttery yellow of a sunflower bloom, a crab spider snatches an unsuspecting Triepeolus bee, a victim of the spider’s lethal camouflage. “All animals are opportunistic,” says photographer Bill Pentler, who saw the drama unfold in an Albuquerque park. “If predators can use camouflage to lure in a meal, that’s a huge benefit.”
LIZARD | While strolling with his daughter through a Costa Rican rain forest, photographer Ron Henderson paused by a glistening tree—and saw the bark move. “It’s almost like a horror movie, when you suddenly realize something is there that you didn’t see,” he jokes. Though this basilisk lizard soon scooted away, its image lingers, a reminder of nature’s magic.
It’s easy to love a bison, bear, bald eagle or any of America’s charismatic megafauna that grace our lands and skies. It’s less easy—but no less important—to fight to save the small, homely or often invisible creatures that enrich our ecosystems in countless ways. Saving creatures great and small has long been the mission of the National Wildlife Federation and its 51 state and territorial affiliates. This “One Federation Family” is committed to restoring, protecting and connecting habitat, reversing species declines, ensuring healthy waterways and connecting people with nature. “In saving wildlife,” says NWF President and CEO Collin O’Mara, “we save ourselves.”
Lisa Moore is Editorial Director of National Wildlife.
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The National Wildlife® Photo Contest celebrates the power of photography to advance conservation and connect people with wildlife and the outdoors.