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Fooled you! Animals that trick other animals


Photo by Silke Baron licensed CC BY 2.0

We’re heading into the animal kingdom to discover animals that fool other animals all year long. From master of disguises to flat out trickery, these animals have evolved to imitate other animals in order to get what they want — or don't want — depending on where they are on the food chain.

Let’s see what tricks these creatures have in store.

Tree ocelot

Tree ocelot on rocky ground.
This cute looking cat is actually an ocelot who imitates the call of baby monkeys to lure potential prey. Photo by Tom Smylie - US Fish & Wildlife Service, Image Archive, Public Domain

You’ll find this small wild cat in the rainforests of Brazil. It relies on a unique prank to search out dinner. The ocelot imitates the call of baby monkeys. It lets out the high-pitched squeal to attract adult monkeys feeding nearby. The curious monkeys come closer. That’s when the ocelot goes on the attack, chasing down the monkeys in the hopes of capturing dinner.

According to locals, ocelots aren’t the only wild cats in the area who imitate animals to lure in prey. They say they’ve heard jaguars and cougars that live in the rainforest copying the sounds of local birds and rodents.

Mimic octopus

Mimic octopus on ocean floor.
At a quick glance, this mimic octopus looks almost like a starfish! Photo by Silke Baron licensed CC BY 2.0

This eight-armed sea creature is a master of disguise. It can make itself look like some of the other creatures that live in its watery home, including sea snakes, jellyfish and starfish. It changes the colour and texture of its skin to match these creatures. And then it takes its trickery a step further. The mimic octopus even changes the way it moves its arms. For instance, when it’s imitating a sea snake, the octopus slips into its burrow and pulls in all but two of its arms. It leaves two arms resting on the ocean bottom, so they look like a venomous sea snake.

As for why it acts like other creatures, it all comes down to survival. By imitating other animals, like the deadly sea snake, the mimic octopus keeps its predators away and keeps itself out of danger.

South African puff adder

South African Puff Adder snake.
This South African puff adder is uses it's tail to trick birds who think the tail is a bug. Photo by Bernard DUPONT licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

This snake has two tricks up its… well, not sleeves since it doesn’t have arms. But it is super tricky! For starters, the deadly snake sticks out its tongue and wags it this way and that. This wagging is said to imitate the movement of a bug, which attracts prey, like toads. When the prey comes close — snap! — it becomes the snake’s dinner.

No other snake is known to use this trickery. The puff adder fools prey with its tail in the same way. It slowly wags it, attracting birds who think the tail is a bug. When a bird comes to investigate, the snake snatches it up. It’s two times a trickster!

Interested in animal mimicry? Read 5 animal masters of disguise

Green heron

Fish in Green Heron's beak.
The early bird catches the worm — or in this case — fish. Photo by Ned Haight licensed CC-BY NC-ND 2.0

When it’s time for dinner, the green heron relies on a smart trick to nab a fish meal. The bird perches on a branch near the shores of ponds and lakes. Then it drops an object like a twig, bug or feather into the water. Soon, curious fish swim over to the object to check it out. That’s when the heron strikes. It snatches up a fish with its sharp beak and swallows the prey whole.

Whitebanded crab spider

A Whitebanded Crab Spider eating a moth.
A whitebanded crab spider perches on a flower while feeding on a skipper butterfly. Photo by John Flannery licensed CC BY-SA 2.0

These female spiders have figured out a sneaky way to fool their prey. The eight-legged tricksters can change their colour from white to yellow, so that they blend in with the flower petals they’re standing on. This keeps the spiders safe from predators and helps them ambush prey. To catch a meal, the crab spiders sit patiently still on a flower petal waiting for bugs to stroll by.

Since insects don’t notice the female spiders, they wander right into their clutches and become a spider snack. However, this chameleon-like trick takes a lot of time to pull off. It can take female crab spiders three to nine days just to change colour!