Animal Disguise and Surprise – Activities

FOCUS: All around you there may be animals hidden in plain sight. They can be variously colored, patterned, or shaped to blend into their surroundings. Some animals are concealed by camouflage, while others warn off predators with bright colors. Those with the best disguise or surprise will survive and pass along these important characteristics to their offspring.

Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about protective coloration in animals.

Show a photo or two of animals with protective coloration in the wild, and ask children to share what they see, notice, and wonder.

Materials: 1-2 photographs of animals with protective coloration.

Objective: To see examples of different types of protective coloration.

Show photographs of the different types of protective coloration – matching color, disruptive coloration, countershading, masking, warning and flash coloration.

Can the children think of examples of other animals displaying these types of coloration patterns?

Materials: Animal Disguise slide show and script or photos, projector, screen.

Objective: To use a model to see how matching color and pattern helps to conceal an animal.

K-2 version: Beforehand, cut insect shapes out of different multicolored and patterned wrapping papers or wallpaper samples, using the Insect Shapes template provided. Cut enough so that there are one or two insect cutouts per child. Cut matching 8×11″ rectangles out of each of the paper patterns. Place these paper rectangles at different stations. Give each child one to two insect cutouts. Have them identify the paper that would provide the best hiding place for their insect cutout and place it there. Take a tour to try and find everyone’s hidden insect. Ask the children to predict where each of these insects would stand out and be especially visible, then test their guess by placing them in this new location.

Grade 3-6 version: Have the children work in small groups. Give each group a wrapping paper or wallpaper sample. Have them cut an 8×11″ piece off their sample to use as background. Using the remaining paper, have them cut out five to eight secret shapes, no smaller than their thumbnails, to hide on their background paper, carefully gluing them flat. Have two to three small groups stand in a circle and take turns placing their background paper in the center of the circle. The other children should try to find as many of the shapes as they can. Afterward, pass the paper around for children to feel where the secret shapes are located and/or hold the paper up to the light to reveal the location of all of the hidden shapes. Repeat until each group has had a chance to share their work.

What do real animals have to do to stay hidden? (Blend in with their specific environment; be still or move very slowly.)

Materials: For grades K-2: insect shapes cut from wrapping/wall paper using Insect Shapes template, 1-2 per child; matching 8×11 rectangles of wrapping/wall paper. For grades 3-6: assortment of colorful and patterned wrapping paper or wallpaper samples, scissors, glue sticks.

PUPPET SHOW “Bumble Bee-Ware”
Objective: To learn about some different types of animal disguise or protective coloration.

Perform the puppet show, or have a group of children perform it for the class. Afterward, ask questions to review the key details, vocabulary, and examples of protective coloration exhibited by the characters in the puppet show. How did each of the characters hide from predators? Which had warning colors?

Materials: puppets, script, props, stage.

Objective: To use a model to investigate how camouflage can lead to increased survival.

(This activity works best with smaller groups. Divide the class in half. Have one group start with Color Hunt and Peck while the other does Where in the Wild, then have the two groups switch. Set up two Hunt and Peck areas so the second is ready to go when the next group arrives.)

Beforehand, scatter 100 pieces of different colored yarn, one at a time, in a designated “feeding” area or “worm yard,” marking the boundaries with cones. Have children line up shoulder to shoulder, facing you, with their backs to the feeding area. Explain that they will pretend to be hungry birds hunting for food. Their food, worms represented by colored lengths of yarn, can only be picked up one at time, using their “beak” – their thumb and forefinger pinched together. They will have ten to fifteen seconds to gather as much food as they can. Tell children on “go!” they will turn around and begin to hunt for worms. When you say “stop!” have all the children come together. To tally results, designate different children to collect one of the different colors of yarn from their classmates. Give each of them a container or sign labeled with the color they are collecting. Ask the children collecting yarn to count up the number of “worms” found. Have them line up from highest number of worms collected to least. Which color of worm was the easiest to find? Which was the hardest? Any ideas why? Which color worm is most likely to survive and make the next generation?

(Optional: make a simple bar graph to represent the data collected using the Hunt and Peck Data Chart.)

Materials: two-inch pieces of different colored yarn or elastic hair ties (5-10 colors, 10-20 pieces of each to make 100 total); containers or signs labeled with each of the colors used (for collecting samples after each round); optional: Color Hunt and Peck Data chart.

Objective: To observe how color, shape, and texture affect our ability to notice objects.

(This activity works best in smaller groups. Divide the class in half. Have one group start with Where in the Wild while the other does Color Hunt and Peck, then have the two groups switch.)

Ahead of time, hide ten to twenty household objects along a trail, school garden path, or the edge of a playground. Explain to the children that they will be searching for objects you have placed along both sides of a trail. Ask them to quietly keep a count of the objects seen and not to speak or point to any of them. Lead the children along the trail, walking single file. When everyone is finished, ask them to share the number of objects seen. Which one was the hardest one to see? Finish by walking back along the path, having every child share the location of one object.

Materials: 10-20 household objects or toys, which could include a metal coat hanger, wooden ruler, wooden clothes pin clipped on a low branch, old toothbrush, plastic comb, rubber duck, etc., list of objects used, collecting bag.

Objective: To construct a model of a creature that will blend in with a chosen habitat.

Have the children choose a nearby location (patch of grass, shrub, garden bed), then each build a creature that blends in with this habitat/environment. They can construct their creatures using both materials you provide and any they can find outside. When it is completed they should secretly place their critter in its habitat. Lead the children on a tour to each of the habitats to see if they can find the hidden critters. Clues to each critter may be given as needed.

Materials: assorted craft materials including twigs, popsicle sticks, coffee stirrers, colored tissue and construction paper, fabric, pipe cleaners, modeling clay, glue, scissors, markers, tape.

UPPER GRADE CHALLENGE: Disguise or Surprise? (Grades 5-6)
Objective: To review types of protective coloration by building a creature designed to either blend in or stand out in a particular location.

Have students work singly or in pairs to build an animal model out of various materials that you provide. The animal should be disguised to occupy a particular habitat or microhabitat that the students choose, either outdoors or inside the classroom. Students should consider the different protective coloration strategies discussed throughout the lesson (and listed below) and choose one of these as a defense for their critter. Have the students place their completed critters in the chosen habitat. Now lead students on a tour of the different habitats giving them a chance to discover the creatures. Have the students guess what protective coloration is displayed by the model.


  • Matching color of background
  • Matching texture and color of background
  • Matching shape and color of background (looking like a twig)
  • Masking (attaching debris to body)
  • Disruptive coloration (high-contrast stripes or spots that interrupt body shape)
  • Countershading (light underside, dark upper)
  • Warning coloration (yellow, red, or orange, with or without black markings, or black and white)
  • Looking scary (puffing up)
  • Flash coloration (eye spots)
  • Mimicry (looking like a poisonous or stinging animal)
  • Diverting structures (antennae-like tentacles on tail)

If approached by a predator, how would each of these critters behave? How is behavior a necessary part of any deception?

Materials: Kinds of Protective Coloration descriptions, assorted craft materials such as twigs, popsicle sticks or coffee stirrers, pipe cleaners, yarn, many colors of tissue or construction paper, fabric, markers, modeling clay, glue, scissors, tape, markers.

Objective: To create hidden insect pictures.

Give each child an insect cutout made of colorful paper or cut from a magazine. Have the children glue the insect into their journal and then draw a habitat in which it can hide. Have them share their drawings in small groups.

Materials: paper or science journals; clipboards, drawing materials, cut-out insect shapes/pictures, glue.

Objective: To review different kinds of protective coloration.

Have each child complete this sentence: “If I were a prey animal, I would like to have ___________ as a disguise.”

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