acSay the word camouflage to a naturalist and she tends to think immediately of the chameleon, a small lizard that changes color to blend in with its surroundings. But the chameleon is far from alone in its ability to adapt by disguising itself in response to changes in its environment or to danger. A variety of mammals, birds, insects, spiders, and denizens of the deep have developed comparable traits.

Camouflage, however, is not the only trick Mother Nature has up her evolutionary sleeve. Deception is everywhere in the animal kingdom, adding magic, mystery, and depth to our experiences in nature. Understanding the defensive and offensive measures creatures employ gives us a deeper appreciation of the world around us.

To children, perhaps, all grasshoppers look more or less alike. In basic configuration, in fact, they are possessed of a certain bilateral symmetry, with two eyes, two large jumping legs, and so forth. But grasshoppers certainly are not all uniformly green, as I imagined when I was growing up in Missouri. Some grasshoppers are patterned to resemble so closely the sand they perch on that you can’t see them until they jump, startling you with their sudden motion.

Protective coloration in the form of camouflage is one of nature’s best tricks. The wings of some butterflies, like the curve-toothed geometer, appear to be leaves complete with central veins. This fine attribute allows them to blend into the foliage on a tree

hhpMany of us who live with a cat or dog have no doubt that ours is the smartest, most beautiful, or most talented cat or dog in the world. In fact, this belief is so common among pet owners that it has given rise to a massive show circuit where people compare their pets and compete for titles.

I have to confess I’ve never entered a cat or dog of my own in a show – not because my animal friends are anything less than perfect in my book, but because I’ve just never gone beyond my own book. I do remember, though, how I coveted a little plastic loving cup my big sister won with our dog Cookie at an amateur dog show when we were kids. It came with a beautiful blue ribbon and six cans of dog food.

Who goes in for shows with their pets and why? When I asked pet owners these questions, I was met with a tremendous variety of answers. For many people, dog and cat shows are social occasions. The show circuit is a network where animal owners make new friends and connect with old ones who share their passion for their pets. Some are drawn by the thrill of competition, the buzz of anticipation, the prospect of winning. For still others, there may be a business angle. Pets that win big – and their descendants – are highly prized among breeders