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Deception in animals is the transmission of misinformation by one animal to another, of the same or different species, in a way that propagates beliefs that are not true. Deception in animals does not automatically imply a conscious act, but can occur at different levels of cognitive ability.
Mimicry and camouflage enable animals to appear to be other than they are. Prey animals may appear as predators, or vice versa; both predators and prey may be hard to see (crypsis), or may be mistaken for other objects (mimesis). In Batesian mimicry, harmless animals may appear to be distasteful or poisonous. In automimicry, animals may have eyespots in less important parts of the body than the head, helping to distract attack and increase the chance of survival.
In more active forms of anti-predator adaptation, animals may feign death when they detect a predator, or may quickly conceal themselves or take action to distract a predator, such as when a cephalopod releases ink. In deimatic behaviour, a harmless animal adopts a threatening pose or displays startling, brightly coloured parts of its body to startle a predator or rival.
Some animals may use tactical deception, with behaviour that is deployed in a way that other animals misinterpret what is happening to the advantage of the agent. Some of the evidence for this is anecdotal, but in the great apes in particular, experimental studies in ethology suggest that deception is actively practised by some animals.
Some types of deception in animals are completely involuntary (e.g. disruptive colouration), but others are under voluntary control and may involve an element of learning. Most instances of voluntary deception in animals involve a simple behaviour, such as a cat arching its back and raising its hackles, to make itself appear larger than normal when attacked. There are relatively few examples of animal behaviour which might be attributed to the manipulative type of deception which we know occurs in humans, i.e. "tactical deception". It has been argued that true deception assumes the deceiver knows that (1) other animals have minds, (2) different animals' minds can believe different things are true (when only one of these is actually true), and (3) it can make another mind believe that something false is actually true. True deception requires the deceiver to have the mental capacity to assess different representations of reality. Animal behaviour scientists are therefore wary of interpreting a single instance of behaviour to true deception, and explain it with simpler mental processes such as learned associations. In contrast, human activities such as military deception are certainly intentional, even when they involve methods such as camouflage which physically parallel camouflage methods used by animals.
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