Photograph by Jason Edwards
The tasseled anglerfish is one of over 200 anglerfish species that put food on the table by combining camouflage and the physiological fishing tackle that gives them their name. The fish uses a protruding piece of rodlike dorsal spine, tipped with a bacteria-fuelled, glowing “lure,” to tempt prey close enough to be gulped by its outsize mouth.
Photograph by David Doubilet
The mimic octopus is an intelligent shape changer that can impersonate a host of other animals to dodge hungry predators.
The cephalopod can alter its appearance by, among other ruses, flattening out to appear as a poisonous sole, swimming surrounded by its floating arms to impersonate the lionfish and its venomous fins, and changing the colors on its arms to make them look like poisonous sea snakes.
Photograph by Darlyne A. Murawski
The eyes of the crocodile fish reveal how remarkably well the ambush hunter has evolved to the seafloors and reefs where it typically lies in wait. Frilly iris lappets, which look like seafloor sand, break up the eye’s black pupil to conceal this master of camouflage even more.
Photograph by Wolcott Henry
The cuttlefish, actually a cephalopod relative of octopuses and squid, can shift shape and change its skin color to hide from danger by impersonating its surroundings—like a chunk of a coral, a clump of algae, or simply a patch of sand. The animal’s skin holds some ten million color cells and functions like a high-definition TV that fine-tunes color change so effectively the U.S. military has studied the animal in hopes of improving its own camouflage techniques.
Photograph by Drew Perry, My Shot
The reef-dwelling trumpetfish changes colors frequently—all the better to sneak up on unsuspecting prey and vacuum it up with an elongated snout. The fish often assumes a vertical position to blend in with corals, as seen in this image, and then swoops down upon its victims from above.
Photograph by Debi Henshaw, My Shot
The stealthy trumpetfish sneaks up on its victims before sucking them down its elongated snout. Trumpetfish use camouflage but also cunning—they often follow behind herbivorous fish to more easily approach their prey.
Photograph by Tim Laman
The leaf scorpionfish doesn't just look like a leaf—it sometimes acts like one, swaying from side to side in the currents like a dead leaf tumbling among grasses or algae. Woe to the small crustacean or fish who is fooled—the scorpionfish's strike is that of a formidable predator.
Leafy Sea Dragon
Photograph by Armand Poblete, My Shot
The leafy sea dragon has evolved an uncanny resemblance to the seaweed and kelp found in Australian coastal waters. The animals also mimic leafy weeds by drifting along with ocean currents, snacking on sea lice or tiny crustaceans. Male sea dragons bear young, like their relatives the sea horses, carrying eggs underneath their tails for four to six weeks.
Photograph by Jeff Rotman/Getty Images
The reef stonefish haunts coral reefs across the Indo-Pacific. It’s not always easy to spot, because it blends so well with its rock and coral surroundings, but divers are best to be on the lookout for the colorful fish. The stonefish’s 13 dorsal fin spines can prove most unlucky for anyone pricked by them—they carry one of the most toxic fish venoms in the world.
Photograph by Tim Laman
The vivid Coleman shrimp has developed the perfect camouflage for its perch amid the venomous spines of a fire urchin in Komodo National Park, Indonesia. The blue tips of the urchin’s spines are filled with toxic venom, but the shrimp is able to live comfortably among them without injury.
Photograph by Kristian Taylor, My Shot
The toadfish croaks like its amphibian namesake but typically looks more like the seafloor surroundings where it lies in wait for prey. The fish also has a remarkable tolerance for ammonia, 10 to 20 times greater than that of a human. Scientists studying how the toadfish survives such toxins say the humble animal could someday help produce medical treatments for human ailments including liver disease, stroke, heart attack, and brain injury.
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