Even among plants a few instances of true mimicry have been observed. In the stony African Karoo, where every plant is eagerly sought out for food by the scanty local fauna, there are tubers which exactly resemble the pebbles around them; and I have little doubt that our perfectly harmless English dead-nettle secures itself from the attacks of browsing animals by its close likeness to the wholly unrelated, but well-protected, stinging-nettle.
Finally, we must not forget the device of those animals which not merely assimilate themselves in colour to the ordinary environment in a general way, but have also the power of adapting themselves at will to whatever object they may happen to lie against. Cases like that of the ptarmigan, which in summer harmonises with the brown heather and grey rock, while in winter it changes to the white of the snow-fields, lead us up gradually to such ultimate results of the masquerading tendency. There is a tiny crustacean, the chameleon shrimp, which can alter its hue to that of any material on which it happens to rest. On a sandy bottom it appears grey or sand-coloured; when lurking among seaweed it becomes green, or red, or brown, according to the nature of its momentary background. Probably the effect is quite unconscious, or at least involuntary, like blushing with ourselves—and nobody ever blushes on purpose, though they do say a distinguished poet once complained that an eminent actor did not follow his stage directions because he omitted to obey the rubrical remark, ‘Here Harold purples with anger.’ The change is produced by certain automatic muscles which force up particular pigment cells above the others, green coming to the top on a green surface, red on a ruddy one, and brown or grey where the circumstances demand them. Many kinds of fish similarly alter their colour to suit their background by forcing forward or backward certain special pigment-cells known as chromatophores, whose various combinations produce at will almost any required tone or shade. Almost all reptiles and amphibians possess the power of changing their hue in accordance with their environment in a very high degree; and among certain tree-toads and frogs it is difficult to say what is the normal colouring, as they vary indefinitely from buff and dove-colour to chocolate-brown, rose, and even lilac.