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3 Camouflage methods used by most of these sea creatures

In bioluminescence, fish finders, save the planet, sea creatures, Summer planning by Maz

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Camouflage mechanism in sea creatures is quite common. The most known sea creatures that are brilliant at faking are as follows:-

  1. Stone fish
  2. Flounder
  3. Octopus
  4. Predatory frog fish
  5. Ghost pipe fish
  6. Pygmy sea horse
  7. Coleman shrimp
  8. Crinoid shrimp
  9. Crocodile fish
  10. Leafy sea dragon
  11. Spider crabs (decorator crabs)
  12. Marine hatchetfish (bioluminescent)
  13. Cuttle fish (chameleons of the sea -bioluminescent *)
  14. Scorpion fish
  15. Squid
  16. Angler fish
  17. Wobbegong shark (carpet shark)
  18. Sea urchins

We can rate their camouflage based on their ability to match their surrounding. From the master of disguise to the life saver.

There are 3 ways that most sea creatures use camouflage

  1. Through matching colours
  2. Adapting to the shape & texture
  3. Mimicing the movements of the surrounding or a host

What is a camouflage in relation to sea creatures?

Camouflage is an action or transformation of any living or nonliving creature to hide their identify from others or attract others.

Among sea creatures, it works the same way. Since most popular and well known is to either attract others or wade away others. These two have a great significance in their lives.

These underwater creatures have the ability by nature to adapt to the surrounds. Here the survival instincts come into action.

What does these camouflage methods provide?

  • Let others know that there is a food here so come and get it (eg. Angler fish)
  • Attract opposite gender show their presence
  • Power
  • Talent
  • Danger
  • Show their stealth technique
  • Hide from other predators
  • In order to catch the prey
  • live under safely

These two terms intermingle based on the circumstances and the situation. Same fish or other sea creatures could use camouflage to either attract or hide from others.

These camouflage have two known milestones

  • Change of colours & blend in to the environment around them
  • Change of the body shape to blend in without getting detected.

These two have reasons one of which is not getting noticed to hunt or get hunted. The second is to escape if cornered by the predator or humans.

How does a stonefish camouflage itself?

Stonefish uses naturally camouflaged body which is similar to its surrounding. Appears like a rock underwater making any fish or divers also to wonder where the stonefish is hiding.

Stone fish

It is noticed from the behaviour of stone fish that they don’t generally use their venom underwater. Only when they are attacked or pressure is put on their spine can they use it. The habitat of these fishes is among or close to coral reefs making them virtually invisible once they blend in.

Does a stonefish change its colour?

It is not recorded if at all they can change their colour to blend in. However, their shape makes it possible for them to blend in the rocks near coral reefs.

Indicates camouflage of a stone fish in orange and purple background
Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Flounder camouflage checkerboard

There’s an experiment popular in which a flounder is placed in the water whose base is a check board and it changes its colour like a check board.

Flounder fish camouflage on the sea bed
Credit: NOAA CCMA Biogeography Team

What affects the coloration of a flounder?

By changing the relative visibility of chromatophores, color and pattern changes are achieved (melanophores, xanthophores, erythrophores, iridophores, and leucophores).

A full explanation is well published in ncbi article. It was noted that flounders were unable to camouflage or match the surroundings on a rocky surface area.

What is meant by chromatophores?

A pigment bearing cell. It is present in the natural covering of an organ also known as integument.

Its function is to regulate the body colour of an organism either by expanding or contracting. It is present in the organisms that change their colour.

How does Octopus change its colour & shape?

Octopus can not only change its colour easily but also change its shape. It is also known as the master of disguise. There are plenty of experiments we get to see wherein an octopus is trapped and manages to escape.

An octopus swimming up close to the surface of water
Photo by Mohamed Ahsan on Unsplash

Octopus changes its shape with the help of papillae ( a small bump like structure under their skin). The Best part of octopus changing its shape is when it tries to escape narrow areas.

Predatory frog fish method of camouflage

Their method of camouflage helps it in two ways. One being able to blend into its surroundings and hide from its predator which is moray eels. Second is to hunt for prey.

It also uses a bait like an antenna which may resemble a worm. One more advantage it has is it uses its pectoral & pelvic fins that look like tiny legs to walk around the seafloor. They appear as if algae or a sea sponge.

A Predatory frog fish using a camouflage on the sea floor
Photographer: Kevin Lino Affiliation: NOAA/NMFS/PIFSC/ESD

What is the camouflage of ghost pipefish?

It hides in seagrass, algae, and sponges. They come in different colours. They can also change their colours & have their appearance similar to the corals they live in ( similar to the plants or algae).

Ghost pipe fish using a camouflage on the sea floor
Photographer: Dr. Dwayne Meadows Affiliation: NOAA/NMFS/OPR

They sometimes look like a seaweed floating underwater. Also many a time they hide along with a reef that moves with the waves. This is another method of pipefish to blend in the background.

How do Pygmy sea horses camouflage itself?

By living on a sea fan and blending in it makes them hide from their predators. As babies the coral they land on they blend in into its colour.

Tubercles (small bumps) that grow on them makes it even more effective disguise. The sheer size of this sea horse is one of the main points in its camouflage.

It simply adds to its capabilities of blending into its surroundings. The coral they live on is generally soft and waves along the ocean current underwater.

Camouflage mechanism in coleman shrimp

coleman-shrimp camouflage
“Coleman’s Shrimp” by Christian Gloor is licensed under CC BY 2.0

They hide among fire urchins matching their colours. Fire urchins have sharp and poisonous stings.

Crinoid shrimp although small in size uses its colours to blend in. Its host is feather star so it sticks to it lives its life.

How do Crocodilefish camouflage?

Crocodilefish camouflage is identical to the stonefish and scorpionfish. They use their naturally camouflaged body. The unique point in its camouflage is its eyes which is also not like other common sea creatures.

Crocodilefish using a camouflage on a stone and sandy sea floor
“File:YolandaCrocodila.jpg” by Roland Unger is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

It means their colour and texture matches the rough & sandy ocean floor. Generally they are seen around the rocks and sandy or rough algae filled surfaces.

How do Leafy sea dragon camouflage?

Leafy sea dragon uses its leaf shaped skin tags attached on its body as a camouflage from its predators.

Leafy sea dragon camouflage between the sea weeds
“File:DSC28160, Leafy Sea Dragon, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, California, USA (4327040414).jpg” by Jim G from Silicon Valley, CA, USA is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It also uses the movements and mimics just like a seaweed or a kelp. Since it lives among the seaweed or kelp.

Decorator crabs are different in blending themselves

Decorator crab camouflage between the sea floor around algae and moss
“File:Graceful Decorator Crab (Oregonia gracilis).jpg” by Ed Bierman from CA, usa is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Decorator crab simply picks up things from the surroundings and decorates it on itself. The above image clearly shows its camouflage. Hence the name decorator crab. It looks weird but it helps them stay safe in the unsafe environment of the ocean.

What does a marine hatchet fish do to hide from predators?

Marine hatchetfish uses its bioluminescent body to hide and adjusts its light based on the surrounding light.

Cuttle fish has a unique disguise

Cuttle fish has an impressive and so accurate way of blending in the surrounding. We can give it a position quite close to the octopus even.

Just like a flounder and checkboard experiment even cuttle fish is able to match to the check board patterns.

It even has an ability to illuminate in the dark. It uses these features inorder to survive itself and even hunt for food.

Identifying how a Squid blends in to its surrounding

It uses the same chromatophores as other species to blend in. It nonetheless is unable to mimic the texture since it doesn’t live at the bottom mostly unlike octopus.

Angler fish camouflage is similar to stone fish

Angler fish camouflage on the sea floor around sea rocks
Credit: New Zealand-American Submarine Ring of Fire 2005 Exploration; NOAA Vents Program

They appear like a rock with algae on it and stay still.

Wobbegong shark surprisingly use camouflage

These sharks appear almost invisible when they are still on the sea floor. They are bottom dwelling sharks hence also known as carpet shark.

A Wobbegong shark on the seabed appearing like a coral from its mouth
“Wobbegong Shark” by Elias Levy is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Unlike other known sharks, these wobbegong sharks don’t need to keep swimming. They can breathe in one place too with simply moving water out of its gills.

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