Environmental games and activities: Camouflage

Looking for another eco-game for youth? Try the camouflage game for an active, fun activity that teaches adaptations.

Have you ever walked right past a rabbit or bird only to see it bolt away once you have gone by? Ever notice how difficult those nasty tent caterpillars are to see on a tree? These are just some examples of how camouflage adaptations help animals live in their environment. This topic is an excellent activity to teach youth how color, shape and size help living organisms blend with their surroundings.

Most living organisms have some type of camouflage adaptation to help them survive. Typically, this type of adaptation is to help them hide to avoid predation or to seek prey. Color of the organism helps mix with natural colors, providing a “hidden” appearance such as a grouse in the brush or a walking stick in a tree. Shape allows an organism to mimic surroundings of the area they are in. Ever notice how a squirrel stretches out on a tree limb and remains motionless? Size is another factor and small animals have a distinct advantage, but even large animals can camouflage themselves. Deer are an excellent example as they remain still while blending with their background. These are all good items to have youth watch for when out on a hike or spending time outdoors.

A great way to educate youth about camouflaging is to use a game or activity format. This is an excellent means of involving youth to demonstrate how this adaptation works. The activity can be done several ways.

  1. Color. Select one or two youth to be spotters or “predators.” The other youth should wear a variety of colored clothing, such as red, brown, white, checkered or striped, and then spread out to hide in a natural area, such as wooded, field, etc. Do not have them hide too far away or outside designated boundaries. The spotters should try to locate those “camouflaged.” Reverse roles so each youth has a chance to be a spotter. Spotters do not move and should remain visible to all.
  2. Shape. Employ the same tactics and rules as above but have the youth “hide” by molding their body shape to natural surrounding like trees, rocks, bushes or terrain. Youth can lay along a log or curl up next to a rock.
  3. Size. Using the same concepts as previously explained, have participants hide by making themselves big or small. Youth can make themselves big next to a large tree or small by laying low to the ground. You can also use different sized objects to hide that include a variety of colors.

Another aspect of this activity that can be used in all three examples is to have the spotters turn their backs for 5 seconds to those hiding. During this time, the youth hiding move closer to the spotters. Try this three or four times. The goal of those hiding is to get as close to the spotters as possible without being detected. The closest ones become the spotters for the next round.

Upon conclusion of the activity, have a wrap-up discussion about what was learned. Who were the easiest to locate? Who were the most difficult? What advantages did some have over others? Why is camouflaging important? Identify some of the adaptations that animals have. How is this trait important to humans? How does this apply to their own life?

Camouflaging is a fun, active game that youth ages 5-19 really enjoy. It can be done in a wide variety of settings with little preparation. The activity can be done multiple times as youth get better at camouflaging themselves. Try it with a group of youth to add some excitement and a new learning element at your next club meeting or event. Michigan State University Extension encourages participation in new experiences that are safe and expose youth to science involvement with 4-H Science: Asking Questions and Discovering Answers.

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