April Fools’ Day: Nature’s Wildest Masters of Deception

An octopus hides in a clam shell. Photograph by Mona Dienhart, My Shot

By Linda Poon

April Fools’ Day is when people roll out their best pranks, tricks, and other shenanigans just for the sake of a good laugh. But compared with the tricksters of the animal kingdom, we’re all just amateurs. (Related: “April Fools’ Day Pictures: Seven Animal Hoaxes.”)

For nature’s masters of deception, the use of camouflage, mimicry, and other kinds of trickery is just part of survival. Whether they’re outsmarting predators, fooling prey, or luring a potential mate, here are five animals that aren’t joking around when they employ their clever tactics.

1.  Octopus and Cuttlefish

Few animals use camouflage as well as the common octopus or the cuttlefish. While other animals blend in to an environment that already resembles their appearance, both octopuses and cuttlefish can transform their entire body in a matter of seconds to mimic the surroundings. From changing their colors, patterns, and textures to altering their shapes, these creatures are the ocean’s true masters of disguise. (Interactive: Test your ability to find the mimic.)

2.  Stoat

It’s hard not to stare at a stoat dancing and thrashing around in an open field. But while it seems like pure entertainment for the unsuspecting prey, the stoat isn’t just busting a move to show off. The weasel is actually hypnotizing its next meal so that it can attack at the perfect moment.

3. Frogfish

Part frog, part fish in its appearance, the frogfish—a type of anglerfish—is neither the fastest swimmer nor the greatest hopper. So when it comes to hunting, the frogfish waits for prey to come to it. The anglerfish disappears among the sponges and corals, keeping its body still but waving the appendage attached to the end of its dorsal fin as bait. Once a hungry shrimp swims over, thinking it has found food, the frogfish swallows the unsuspecting victim in one big gulp.

4. Strange-Headed Snake

Perhaps the sneakiest of the bunch, the strange-headed snake is also known as the two-headed snake. But one head is actually just its tail, which mimics the behavior of a retreating snake to fool predators into thinking it’s alert and ready to fight back. All the while, the front end of the snake is looking for its own dinner.

5. Lyrebird

Songbirds are pros at mimicking the songs of other birds. But the lyrebird takes it to a whole new level when trying to attract a potential mate. He goes beyond just imitating other birds and repeats the sounds of different animals. More impressively, the lyrebird can also imitate things like chainsaws buzzing, car alarms blaring, and even camera shutters clicking.



Meet the Author
More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn