Investigating camouflage

We recently borrowed 'Mister Seahorse' by Eric Carle from the library.  I suggested the small boy might like to try reading it because he has enjoyed other books by the same author (The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the Very Busy Spider).  However, we brought it home because he was captivated by the camouflage pages. These have a pattern printed on a transparent material and when you move it you can see the sea creature that was hidden.  He didn't actually enjoy the story that much (it's about Daddy seahorse looking after the baby seahorses and finding other sea creature fathers who are also looking after their young), but he kept coming back to look at the pictures.

We had a bit of a chat about camouflage and how it helps things to hide, although I didn't really explain in great detail about how things use it to hide to avoid being eaten...  He was quite taken by the idea of being able to hide, so I thought I'd try and pick up on his interest in camouflage.  I quickly constructed a scene with some striking patterns (which are animal prints in a pack of Crayola tissue paper, so not really appropriate for a sea scene, but it's what I had to hand) and some creatures with the same patterns who could be camouflaged.  I 'hid' the creatures on their matching patterns, and asked him what was on the paper.

Camouflage background and sea life shapes with the book which inspired this activity

It took him a few moments to spot the sea horse, and then he quickly found the others.  He had a play with positioning the 'animals' on different patterns and different ways around, and then rapidly lost interest, although he did come back to it later on and asked to have another play with the camouflaged seahorse.

Hiding the sea life using camouflage

The misplaced zebra pattern on my mock coral made me remember some research done by a friend of mine, Dr Anna Hughes, about why some animals actually have striking patterns rather than fitting in with their surroundings using camouflage.  This may be related to helping them avoid predators when they are moving rather than hiding them when they are still.  We had a go at the game developed by Anna and colleagues (, and the small boy enjoyed trying to catch the moving 'bug' (and the noises they make).  We did this on a tablet with a touch screen as he can use them quite competently, whereas a mouse would have been too much of a challenge.  It was interesting to watch him try to spot the bug, and he wanted to do it 'assisted' by his Duplo zebra (which he went and found when I showed him the start screen for the game!). He and the zebra had a couple of goes at it before wanting to do something else.

We also had a go at another game Anna (at the Sensory Ecology and Evolution group at the University of Exeter) suggested, which nicely fitted with the sea creature and camouflage theme.  This one is at and involves spotting crabs which aren't moving against a patterned background.  The small boy found some of them really hard to spot, and he lost interest part way through; a slightly older child would likely find this really good fun though.

None of this occupied a lot of time, but it was an amusing series of activities around something he'd decided was interesting, and he has mentioned camouflage quite a few times since.