Amazing Examples of Ocean Camouflage

Octopus on Coral, Showing Camouflage Ability
Close-up of octopus on coral, Raja Ampat, New Guinea Island, Indonesia. Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Many ocean animals have the amazing ability to camouflage themselves to blend in with their surroundings.

Camouflage can help animals protect themselves from predators, as they can blend into their surroundings so a predator may swim by without detecting them.

Camouflage can also help animals sneak up on their prey. A shark, skate or octopus may lay in wait on the ocean bottom, waiting to snatch up an unsuspecting fish that wanders by.

Below, take a look at some amazing examples of ocean camouflage and learn about the animals capable of blending in so well with their surroundings.

Pygmy Seahorse Blending In

Pygmy Seahorse Camouflaged on Sea Fan
Yellow pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti) on sea fan, Komodo Island, Indonesia. Wolfgang Poelzer/WaterFrame/Getty Images

Seahorses can take on the color and shape of their preferred habitat. And many seahorses don't travel far throughout the day. Although they are fish, seahorses aren't vigorous swimmers, and may rest in the same spot for several days. 

Pygmy seahorses are tiny seahorses that are less than an inch long. There are about nine different species of pygmy seahorses.

Sea Urchin Carrying Objects

Urchin carrying objects for camouflage, including skeleton of another sea urchin, with cushion sea star in background, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles
Urchin carrying objects for camouflage, including skeleton of another sea urchin, with cushion sea star in background, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles. Danita Delimont/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Instead of changing color to blend in with their surroundings, some animals, like sea urchins, pick up objects to hide themselves. This urchin is carrying a myriad of objects, including even the skeleton (test) of another urchin! Perhaps a passing predator would just think the urchin was part of the rocks and rubble on the ocean bottom. 

Tasseled Wobbegong Shark Lying in Wait

Tasseled Wobbegong Camouflaged in Habitat
Tasseled Wobbegong camouflaged in its habitat, Indonesia, Papua, Raja Ampat. George Day/Gallo Images/Getty Images

With their mottled coloration and the dermal lobes that extend from their head, the tasseled wobbegong can blend in easily with the ocean bottom. These 4-foot long sharks feed on benthic invertebrates and fish. They inhabit reefs and caves in relatively shallow waters in the western Pacific Ocean.

The wobbegong waits patiently on the ocean bottom. As its prey swims by, it can launch itself up and grab the prey before it even suspects the shark is near. This shark has a mouth so huge that it can even swallow other sharks. The shark has very sharp, needle-like teeth that it uses to grasp its prey.

Solar-Powered Lettuce Leaf Nudibranch

Lettuce Leaf Nudibranch camouflaged
Lettuce Leaf Nudibranch (Tridachia crispata), Caribbean. Fotosearch/Getty Images

This nudibranch can be up to 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. It lives in the warm waters of the Caribbean. 

This is a solar-powered sea slug — like a plant, it has chloroplasts in its body which conduct photosynthesis and provide its green coloration. The sugar generated in this process provides nutrition to the nudibranch.

Imperial Shrimp

Imperial shrimp (Periclimenes imperator) on Spanish dancer nudibranch (Hexabranchus sanguineus), Indonesia
Imperial shrimp (Periclimenes imperator) on Spanish dancer nudibranch (Hexabranchus sanguineus), Indonesia. Jonathan Bird/Photolibrary/Getty Images

The coloration of this imperial shrimp allows it to blend in perfectly on a Spanish dancer nudibranch. These shrimp are also known as cleaner shrimp because they eat algae, plankton and parasites off their nudibranch and sea cucumber hosts. 

Ovulid Snail on Coral

Ovulid snail camouflaged on coral
Ovulid snail on coral, Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia. Borut Furlan/WaterFrame/Getty Images

This ovulid snail blends in perfectly with the polyps of the coral on which it sits.

Ovulid snails are also known as false cowries. Their shell is cowry-shaped but is covered by the snail's mantle. This snail eats corals and sea fans and avoids its own predators by blending in expertly with its surroundings, as it takes on the pigment of its prey. What could be better than avoiding predators and getting a meal at the same time?

Leafy Sea Dragons

Leafy Sea Dragons camouflaged
Leafy Sea Dragons, Australia. Dave Fleetham/Perspectives/Getty Images

Leafy sea dragons are among the most spectacular-looking fish. These seahorse relatives have long, flowing appendages and yellow, green or brown coloration which helps them blend in well with the kelp and other seaweeds which are found in their shallow-water habitat.

Leafy sea dragons can grow to about 12 inches in length. These animals feed on small crustaceans, which they suck in using their pipette-like snout.

Carrier or Urchin Crab

Carrier Crab Camouflages Using Urchin
Carrier crab carries urchin on its back for camouflage, Lembeh Stratit Sulawesi Celebes, Indonesia. Rodger Klein/WaterFrame/Getty Images

The carrier crab, also known as the urchin crab, has a symbiotic relationship with several species of urchin. Using its back two legs, the crab carries an urchin on its back, which allows it to hide itself. The urchin's spines also help protect the crab. In turn, the urchin benefits from being carried to areas where there may be more food.

Giant Frogfish Looks Like a Sponge

Giant frogfish in yellow sponge, Mabul Island, Malaysia
Giant frogfish camouflaged in yellow sponge, Mabul Island, Malaysia. Perrine Doug/Perspectives/Getty Images

They're lumpy, they don't have scales, and they are expert camouflage artists. Who are they? Giant frogfish! 

These don't look like bony fish, but they do have a bony skeleton, just like some more familiar fish such as cod, tuna and haddock. They have a rounded appearance and sometimes walk on the ocean floor using their pectoral fins.

Giant frogfish may camouflage themselves in sponges or on the ocean bottom. These fish can change their color, and even texture to help them blend in with their environment. Why do they do it? To fool their prey. A giant frogfish's mouth can stretch to 12 times its size, so the frogfish can gobble up its prey in one giant gulp. If its stealth maneuvers fail, the frogfish has a second option — like an anglerfish, it has a modified spine that functions as a fleshy "lure" that attracts prey. As a curious animal, such as a small fish, approaches, the frogfish gulps them down. 

Cuttlefish Camouflage

Cuttlefish camouflaged
Common cuttlefish camouflaged on ocean bottom, Istria, Adriatic Sea, Croatia. Reinhard Dirscherl/WaterFrame/Getty Images

Cuttlefish have an impressive intellect and camouflaging ability that almost seem wasted on an animal with a short, 1-2 year lifespan.

Cuttlefish have millions of chromatophores (pigment cells) attached to muscles in their skin. As the cuttlefish flexes its muscles, pigments are released into the skin, which alter the animal's color and even pattern. 

Bargibant's Seahorse

Pygmy Seahorse Camouflaged on Soft Coral
Pygmy Seahorse Camouflaged on Soft Coral. Stephen Frink/Image Source/Getty Images

The Bargibant's pygmy seahorse has a color, shape and size that allows it to blend in perfectly with its surroundings.

Bargibant's seahorses live on soft corals called gorgonians, which they grasp with their prehensile tail. They are thought to feed on tiny organisms such as crustaceans and zooplankton.  

Decorator Crab

Decorator Spider Crab
Decorator Spider Crab (Dromia dormia), Komodo, Indonesia. Borut Furlan/WaterFrame/Getty Images

The decorator crab shown here looks a bit like an underwater version of Chewbacca.

Decorator crabs camouflage themselves with organisms like sponges (like the one shown here), bryozoans, anemones and seaweeds. They have bristles called setae on the back of their carapace where they can attach these organisms. 

Peacock Flounder

Peacock flounder (Bothus mancus), camouflaged against ocean bottom
Peacock flounder (Bothus mancus), camouflaged against ocean bottom. Dave Fleetham / Design Pics/Perspectives/Getty Images

The fish shown here is a flowery flounder or peacock flounder. Flounders lie flat on the ocean bottom and have both eyes on one side of their body, making them a strange-looking fish. Plus, they have color-changing ability, which makes them even more interesting. 

Peacock flounder have beautiful blue spots. They can "walk" on the ocean bottom using their fins, changing color as they go. They are even able to resemble the pattern of a checkerboard. This excellent color-changing ability comes from pigment cells called chromatophores.

This species is found in tropical waters in the Indo-Pacific and Eastern Pacific Ocean. They live on sandy bottoms in shallow water. 

Devil Scorpionfish

Devil scorpionfish with butterflyfish in mouth, Hawaii
Devil scorpionfish with butterflyfish in mouth, Hawaii. Dave Fleetham / Design Pics/Perspectives/Getty Images

Devil scorpionfish are ambush predators with a powerful bite. These animals blend in with the ocean floor, waiting for small fish and invertebrates to prey upon.  When a food item gets close, the scorpionfish launches itself up and inhales its prey.

These fish also have poisonous spines on their back which helps protect the fish from predators. It can also give a painful sting to humans.

In this image, you can see how well the scorpionfish blends in with the ocean bottom, and how it contrasts with the bright butterflyfish that has become its victim. 

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Kennedy, Jennifer. "Amazing Examples of Ocean Camouflage." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Kennedy, Jennifer. (2020, August 26). Amazing Examples of Ocean Camouflage. Retrieved from Kennedy, Jennifer. "Amazing Examples of Ocean Camouflage." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).