8 Crazy Color Changing Animals: The Amazing Color Changing Abilities of Animals

Crazy Color Changing Animals

The animal kingdom contains an incredible diversity of species with some truly spectacular adaptations. One of the most visually striking is color changing ability – the capacity of some creatures to alter their external coloration at will. The color change can be partial or the animal can change shade completely, shifting rapidly from light to dark and back again.

Many animals are able to do this using specialized cells in the skin. The pigment-producing cells, called chromatophores, are controlled by the nervous system. By expanding or contracting these pigment cells, the nervous system can rapidly alter the animal’s outward appearance.

This chameleonic capacity has evolved in a range of creatures not confined to chameleons. Studying animals that change color gives biologists clues into how nature builds some of its most innovative living structures on Earth. Furthermore, scientists may be able to mimic color changing capacity in novel technologies.

In this blog post, e will share and make yo a tour of the strangest and most incredible color changing creatures in nature.

1. The Mysterious Mimic Octopus

common Octopus

The Indonesian mimic octopus takes color changing to the next level with its ability to imitate an incredible range of species.

This strange cephalopod was discovered in 1998. The creature earned the name for its bizarre tendency to adopt the shape, coloration and behavioral quirks of other sea creatures.

Most octopuses are masters of camouflaging themselves through altering skin tone, texture and shape. However, the mimic octopus displays an alien level of transformative prowess. It can turn brown like a flatfish, elongate like a poisonous lionfish or hoover along the sea floor as it adopts the appearance of a sea snake.

By taking on the characteristics of other creatures that predators avoid, the octopus indulges in a clever survival strategy.

No-one is certain why the mimic octopus developed these incredible polymorphic powers. Scientists do know that it is the only octopus with such an insane range of shapeshifting skills. The unique ability surely secures an uncertain future against the backdrop of climate change and threats like overfishing.

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2. The Chameleon Lobster

Chameleon Lobster

A color changing lobster species called the chameleon lobster (Thenus orientalis) was discovered in 2016. The crustacean which dwells in the Indo-Pacific Ocean sports some seriously weird and wonderful attributes.

As the name suggests, this lobster has a flair for fluid color play. The natural rainbow-like sheen of its flexible plates can morph between transparent, blue and yellow. Remarkably, the bizarre flicking action of its tail fans causes that freaky color shift. Researchers speculate that the ability might help the lobster to scare off predators or attract mates.

The highlighter-like highlights aren’t the only unexpected quality of this novel lobster variety. Unlike most lobsters which fear light, this species swims towards the sun. Additionally, it typically lives on the skin of other sea creatures by latching onto them. One specimen was even found to share space inside the tube-like home of an X-ray built sea cucumber.

So this bizarre one of a kind lobster dwells on other sea creatures, shimmers with a spectrum of surreal colors and actually craves rays of light. It really is a whimsical crustacean king with no parallel!

3. Cephalopods: The Masters of Disguise


As a whole, most cephalopods or mollusks like octopuses showcase remarkable color changing talents. The skin color system of these intelligent ocean dwellers is the most intricate and advanced on the planet.

It works thanks to several layers of pigment-producing and light-reflecting cells in their skin. Cephalopods can control flickers of warning color, camouflage patterns or mating displays using muscles.

By compressing and expanding those chromatophores or iridophores, the animal quickly alters shade. Some cephalopods combine the color adjusting skills with an ability to rapidly change skin texture too. So they create moving patterns against their skin for optical illusions to startle prey or predators. For example the fluttering zebra effect of a squid swimming away.

The well developed and ultra sensitive sight organs of cephalopods also assists with their color shows. Incredibly, the animals can even alter color in response to viewing projected 3 dimensional images. Researchers found the cuttlefish Sepia officinalis changes its appearance based on the illusions of distance and location created by iMax style images.

That astonishing experiment showcases how interconnected and powerful the skin color systems of cephalopods truly are.

4. Brilliant Cuttlefish


One dazzling cephalopod that stuns with its psychedelic skin spectaculars is the flamboyant cuttlefish. This wacky little soft-bodied creature lives in tropical waters in the Indo-Pacific realm. It spends most of its life ambling across shallow coral reefs or seaweed beds.

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For such a diminutive animal seldom exceeding 2 to 3 inches (5 – 8 cm) in length, it sports shockingly divine and vibrant displays. Its secret lies in those incredible skin cells with rippling waves of yellow, red, blue, brown and green flashing out.

Researchers discovered in 2016 that flamboyant cuttlefish color changes operate on a scale and sequence previously unseen in nature. Incredibly, they shift color multiple times per second by propagating electrifyingly beautiful waves across their skin.

So why put on such a dazzling and swirling light show? Scientists theorize that the cuttlefish likely uses hypnotic displays during mating to attract partners. Alternately, they may also function to confuse predators since this small cuttlefish has almost no defenses.

5. The Crafty Common Chameleon

Crafty Common Chameleon

No showcase on color changing creatures could skip the common chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon). This iconic tree dwelling species uses its color alteration capacities primarily for camouflage and signaling intentions during breeding season.

The chameleon lives around Mediterranean woodland and scrubland habitats ranging from North Africa to Southern Europe.

Like all chameleons, they have interesting adaptable feet, independently rotating eyeballs and a slowly extending sticky tongue designed for capturing insects.

The color change mechanism relies on another layer of specialized cells beneath the skin called guanophores. By relaxing or exciting pigment filled guanphores, neurological signals rapidly alter skin tone to match surroundings.

Chameleons fine tune color change by sensing light levels, contrast, patterns and temperature through the skin. Some research even suggests they may detect color and imagery using their highly mobile eyes. The pioneering work looked at how panther chameleons focus their eyes differently when viewing red versus blue patterns.

Through their mastery over color change, chameleons provide a prime example of how vital camouflage operates in nature. Their unique and versatile color change prowess surely contributes to the widespread success of chameleons. Today, the adaptable reptiles thrive in warm habitats worldwide with over 200 species named so far.

7. Phasing Color Signals in Frogs

green color frog

Color changing capacity assists many frogs and toads with regulating body heat, signaling rival males and wooing partners. The amphibians alter skin shade by shifting pigments inside chromatophores with muscular contractions.

Interestingly, a few tropical frog species evolved the talent for rapidly fluctuating much bolder and dramatic patterns. For example, the gorgeous lemur leaf frog shifts from solid bright emerald green to revealing contrasting red patches along its spine and legs.

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Researchers recently discovered that five eye-catchingly adorned glass frog species can actually transform their brilliant patterns into dynamic on and off signals. Through muscular skin controls, the small frogs toggle bright yellow or white spots in sequence to generate rippling waves and pulsing optical illusions.

Experts believe the mind-bending pulsating patches help frogs find mates and convey territorial dominance in rainforest habitats with poor visibility. Flashing embellishments in the dim conditions suggests a large and healthy partner capable of producing ample offspring. What better tactic when seeking a mate?

8. The Hypnotic Prowess of Hairy Frogfish


Another ambush predator from tropical coral ecosystems can alter both its colors and the intricate patterns across its skin. Searching through the kaleidoscopic bustle of a reef, you might overlook the hairy frogfish (Antennarius striatus) during its stealthy hunts.

That is precisely the plan for this sneaky angler fish relative. It waits with its modified dorsal fin twitching like a fishing pole to lure smaller fish. Then with a rapid strike, the hairy frogfish vacuum up unsuspecting prey that wanders too close. The frogfish can expand its mouth and belly to an outrageous size for swallowing victim up to twice its own length!

The hairy frogfish relies on cunning camouflage thanks to an elaborate system of pigment, light reflecting and smooth flattenable skin cells to transform its look. By tweaking the cell shapes and skin textures, the fish morphs in a fractal fashion. Its body seems to pixelate into the surrounding coral, seaweed or sand landscapes.

Unexpectedly, scientists also noticed the normally somberly colored frogfish can shift to blazing yellows, oranges, reds or even rosy pink hues during mating. Researchers assume the sudden garish colors assist with attracting partners. However, we still need to decode the secret communication abilities of this mystical decorator crab cousin.

Color Changing Creatures Show Off Nature’s Magic

The chameleonic color changing mastery of animals showcases nature at its most innovative. A range of quirky creatures leverage powers over pigments, skin cells, muscles and light to fashion living optical illusions for every occasion. They use this wizardry to hide, hunt, startle foes or charm potential lovers.

We can find inspiration from their morphological wizardry and apply biological principles to drive new developments in color changing technologies. Early applications include eyedrops to enhance night vision using lessons from luminescent algae or polar bear inspired all terrain vehicle camouflage for stealth missions.

As researchers uncover more of the biological mechanisms governing spectacular color change capacities, even more opportunities will emerge from mimicking nature’s visual tricksters.