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Counter Shading


Dunlin (Erolia alpina).

Dunlin (Erolia alpina).

Photo © Tim Zurowski.

Counter shading is a common color pattern in animals in which the dorsal side (upper side) of the animal is darker than the ventral (lower) side. Such a color pattern provides camouflage for the animal when viewed from above, below, and even from the side.

Sunlight shines down from the sky and illuminates the top of an animal's body, casting its belly in shadow. The counter shading pattern balances the light from above and the shadow beneath the animal so as to blend the animal's side profile with its surroundings.

Counter shading also helps animals blend into their surroundings when viewed from above and below, which is the case for many tree-dwelling and aquatic species. When viewed from below, a counter-shaded animal with a light belly blends into the light coming from the sky above. When viewed from above, the darker back of a counter-shaded animal blends into the darker ground colors below.

Examples of counter-shaded animals include:

  • many species of shorebirds
  • some species of dolphins
  • numerous species of fish


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