The art of camouflage of marine animals

In nature, being able to blend into the background to escape detection by predators is an important survival factor.

We humans can do it to some extent by changing our clothes, or by behaving in a way that doesn’t draw attention to ourselves. In the marine environment, however, animals are far superior to us in the art of camouflage.

At S.E.A. Aquarium we have a wide variety of marine animals that show some of the astonishing camouflage methods which they have developed to allow them to live and reproduce.

Imagine being able to change the colour, pattern or texture of your skin to match your surroundings. Or to have the ability to mimic everyday objects so that people won’t notice you are there! That’s just what these fascinating animals do everyday.

Broadhead cuttlefish

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The cuttlefish can change skin colour and pattern almost instantaneously. It has been seen to have the ability to assess its surroundings and match the colour, contrast and texture of the substrate even in total darkness.

The ability to do this comes from having cells under the surface of the skin that contain black, brown, red, orange and yellow pigments. Controlled by the nervous system, these cells contract and relax, changing the colors and pattern of the cuttlefish’s skin in milliseconds.

Giant Pacific Octopus

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The Giant Pacific Octopus has the ability to control the texture of its skin to match that of surrounding rocks, sand or algae.  Under its skin, it has a network of finely controlled muscles that can create bumps, ridges or even spikey horns.  Being textured is not always beneficial, and the octopus can easily change back to being smooth in order to create less drag when it swims through the water.

Find out more about the Giant Pacific Octopus and its caretakers.

Leafy Sea dragons

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The Leafy Sea Dragon is one of the most ornately camouflaged creatures on the planet. Decorated with delicate, leaf-shaped appendages over their entire bodies, they are perfectly equipped to blend in with the seaweed and kelp formations they live amongst. These beautifully elaborate animals sway like the seaweed, too – a great predator avoidance strategy!

Find out more about the Leafy Sea Dragon and its relative the Weedy Sea Dragon.

Frogfish

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The Frogfish is a masters of camouflage, which it achieves by mimicking existing object such as algae, rubble, corals and sponges, and its body is often covered with spots, stripes, warts, skin flaps and filaments. Predators do not associate such objects with food, which significantly reduces the likelihood of the frogfish being eaten!

What’s more, as frogfish are not fast swimmers, they need camouflage to assist them in ambushing their prey.

Find out more about the Frogfish when it’s still a baby.

Lookdown fish

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For fish in the open ocean there are no objects to hide behind, so some marine animals have found a way to blend into the water itself.

When light hits the silvery skinned Lookdown fish it can easily seen by predators, so the Lookdown can change the reflectivity of its skin to alter how light bounces off it. This decreases the fish’s contrast with its surroundings, making it harder for predators to spot!

Grey Reef Sharks

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The Grey Reef Sharks display a form of camouflage called countershading. These sharks are dark on top and white underneath. When viewed from below, its lighter belly blends in with the lighter sky above. When viewed from above, its darker back blends in with the ocean bottom underneath. Countershading is particularly helpful to reef sharks when they are hunting.

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