In 1909, Abbott Thayer suggested that the study of animal coloration lies in the domain of artists because it deals with optical illusions. He proposed, for example, that prey color patterns may obliterate the animal's outline to make the wearer appear invisible to its predators. Despite a long history of research on the neuropsychology of visual illusions in humans, the question of whether they can occur in other animals has remained largely neglected. In this review, we first examine whether the visual effects generated by an animal's shape, coloration, movement, social environment, or direct manipulation of the environment might distort the receiver's perspective to form an illusion. We also consider how illusions fit into the wider conceptual framework of sensory perception and receiver psychology, in order to understand the potential significance of these (and other) visual effects in animal communication. Secondly, we consider traits that manipulate visual processing tasks to intimidate or mislead the viewer. In the third part of the review, we consider the more extreme cases of sensory manipulation, in which individuals or their traits disrupt, overstimulate, or inactivate receivers' sensory systems. Although illusions present just one form of sensory manipulation, we suggest that they are likely to be more common than previously suspected. Furthermore, we expect that research in this area of sensory processing will provide significant insights into the cognitive psychology of animal communication. © The Author 2013.