7 Color-Changing Wonders of the Animal Kingdom

Can you spot the animals in the images above? The lizard blends so perfectly it is hard to see even when pointed out. The ability to change color seems like an animal superpower at times – some of them can alter their appearance to blend with the colors, materials and textures of virtually any surroundings. For some this ‘costume change’ happens quickly, for others it is seasonal – for many it helps them avoid predators, for a few it enables them to sneak up on prey. Culled from around the animal kingdom, here are seven of most impressive color-changing species in the world.

1) Side-Swimming Bottom-Feeding Flounder

(Images via: Cornell, FlounderGigging, PracticalFishKeeping and Wikimedia)

The flounder at first appeas as rather ungainly-looking bottom-feeding flat fish, but has the amazing ability to adapt their appearance to their environment in search of prey along the ocean floor. To further aid their stealth,  their second eye actually migrates to one side of their body (left or right depending on the species) as they get older. This enables them to cruise along parallel to the ground below them (essentially on their side) and still look up and forward. Further, these industrious creatures have even (surprisingly) been found at the bottom of deepest location on the Earth’s crust – the Mariana Trench – at depths of 35,000 feet.

2) Shape-and-Species Shifting Mimic Octopus

(Images via Eobasileus, WaterWorxBali and Spluch)

More than mere color-changers, Mimic Octopi are also shape-shifters that can adapt their movements and the arrangement of their parts to appear as up to 15 different oceanic species “including sea snakes, lionfish, flatfish, brittle stars, giant crabs, sea shells, stingrays, flounders, jellyfish, sea anemones, and mantis shrimp.” This remarkable octopus species determines threats and reacts by appearing as a predator to their own predators.

“For example, when the octopus was being attacked by damselfishes, it was observed that the octopus appeared as a banded sea snake, a damselfish predator. The octopus impersonates the snake by turning black and yellow, burying six of its arms, and waving its other two arms in opposite directions” as shown in the above video.

3) Classic Color-Changing Chameleon Lizards

(Images via HowStuffWorks, MongaBay and NatureProducts)

Chameleons are the classic color-changers: all species of chameleons can shift their appearance to different degrees, collectively able to turn pink, blue, red, orange, yellow, green, black and brown and combinations thereof. Unlike many color-changing creatures, chameleons are thought to mainly change in order to communicate with others of their species and to make themselves more attractive to mates – as opposed to using their ability for offense or defense.

4) Insect-Stalking Duo-Tone Spider

(Images via Wikipedia, FloridaNaturePhotography and Picasaweb)

The Goldenrod Crab Spider only has two colors it can change into – white and yellow – but fortunately for it, this species hunts mainly on flowers of those colors: daisies and sunflowers most notably. Triggered by their visual input, the spiders secrete a pigment to switch between white and yellow over a period of days – thus adapting to the plants in their area. This color change both helps them sneak up on flower-sitting prey and to avoid aerial predators such as birds.

5) Madly-Laughing Quick-Changing Tree Frog

(Images via Flickr, OctopusHome, PCUG and ScribblyGumWiki)

The Peron’s Tree Frog – also known as the Laughing Tree Frog and Maniacal Cackle Frog – is notable for the high-pitched sound it generates but also for its amazing ability to change color in less than an hour. It shifts between gray, brown and white with typically yellow and black legs and emerald spots. They are not afraid of people and can be found in all kinds of environments around Australia, many close to civilization, where they thrive in part due to their color-changing camouflage.

6) Shell-Switching Faux-Ladybug Beetle

(Images via: RichardSeaman, BugGuide and ScienceNewsforKids)

You may have already seen a Golden Tortoise Beetle but not have realized it, since these remarkable creatures can change from a shiny gold color to a dull red with ladybug-like spots. They achieve this change by altering the reflectivity of their outer shell – essentially like tinting a window – via microscopic valves that alter the moisture level under the shell. While it is not known for sure, there must certainly be advantages to appearing as part of another commonly-found species.

7) Arctic Foxes and Other Seasonal Color Shifters

From foxes and caribou to weasels, birds and bunnies, a number of species shift the colors of their coats come wintertime to blend in with the surrounding environment – a few are predators but most are prey. The degree of their transformation depends heavily on their habitats and the particular species with some shifting only slightly between shades and others going from fully brown to entirely white. Click here for more on seasonal color-changing arctic animals.

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