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9 Animals That Can Change Color

When you think of color-change artists of the animal world, you probably think chameleons, but these other cool beasts can change color, too.

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Golden tortoise beetle on green leaf with holes, eaten by insect

Golden tortoise beetle

This pretty, shiny insect scientifically known as Charidotella sexpunctata is a wiz at changing its color—from gold to black-spotted orange to an even darker spotted orange. Two things drive the color shift in this North American native: Mating and to ward off predators, according to Scientific American. If you’re fascinated by the mystery of animals, you’ll also want to read up on these animals that can only be found in one place in the world.

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A curious Pharaoh Cuttlefish (Sepia pharaonis) on a deep, dark tropical coral reef (Similan Islands)
Richard Whitcombe/Shutterstock


This cephalopod—that means big-headed, tentacled mollusk—is a master of camouflage. According to scientists, it can look at its surroundings, then decide what color or pattern it needs to change to so it’s invisible to hungry predators like dolphins. The pigment in its skin is so sophisticated that National Geographic compares it to a high definition TV. Even more helpful: This denizen of Australia can shift its shape, too.

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Excellent camouflage fish : The peacock flounder is also called flowery flounder because it is covered in superficially flower-like bluish spots.
Franck Palaticky/Shutterstock

Peacock flounder

This deep ocean dweller can change its color in seconds flat—all the better to sneak up on other fish it wants to gobble for dinner. Scientists say that when it looks at the color of the surrounding environment, its eyes transmit a message to its brain; this releases hormones that send pigments to the surface of its skin.

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seahorse (Hippocampus) swimming


Thanks to their diminutive size, seahorses need all the help they can get to avoid predators—a primary reason for their color shifts, but not the only one. They also adapt colors to hunt, communicate with fellow seahorses, and to attract a mate. In a dangerous situation, a seahorse can change color in a matter of seconds. The shift takes longer when they’re attracting a mate, says WorldAtlas. It makes sense the creatures would take their time—they’re one of the 11 species that mate for life.

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Pacific tree frog on blade of grass

Pacific tree frog

This small native of the American West coast spends most of its time up in trees, blending in with the help of its color shifts. Their choice of hue can vary depending on the background, the temperature, and the season. All of this keeps the amphibian safe from raccoons, large predatory birds, and snakes.

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Female Whitebanded Crab Spider (Misumenoides formosipes)
Elliotte Rusty Harold/Shutterstock

Whitebanded crab spider

Living throughout the United States and Canada, the female crab spider will quickly change color from white to yellow, and more slowly from yellow to white. They match the petals of flowers while they’re hunting pollinators like bees, according to researchers at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. (The males are much smaller and can’t change color.) Going from yellow to white seems to take more energy, say the researchers, and that is why it takes longer.

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Arctic fox in winter
Mircea Costina/Shutterstock

Arctic fox

OK, it’s not as dramatic as a quick-changing spider, but the Arctic fox is just one of a number of mammals that has fur that changes hue in winter—to camouflage it from prey and, possibly, to better insulate it against cold temperatures. Like the snowshoe hare, the short-tailed weasel, and the Peary caribou, the Arctic fox turns white when the season gets snowy. You probably have these “facts” about animals all wrong.

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Mimic octopus

Mimic octopus

Also known by its scientific Latin name, Thaumoctopus mimicus, this cephalopod got its name for a good reason. It can change both its color and its body shape to mimic other creatures of the deep, including lionfish, jellyfish, stingrays, and sea snakes. You’ve probably guessed the reason: These incredibly smart animals are avoiding detection by predators.

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Green Anole lizard (Anolis carolinensis) showing off his bright pink dewlap
Leena Robinson/Shutterstock

Green anole

No one’s really sure why this lizard changes color from green to brown and back again. It’s been spotted sitting on a brown log and keeping its color green, and also sitting on a green leaf and keeping its color brown. Skin color, says the Anole Annals, “makes the lizards more, rather than less, conspicuous.” There’s still plenty of debate about what benefit that could be. If you’re up for a challenge, see if you can spot the animals camouflaged in these photos.

Lela Nargi
Lela Nargi is a veteran journalist covering science, sustainability, climate, and agriculture for Readers Digest, Washington Post, Sierra, NPR, The Counter, JSTOR Daily, and many other outlets. She also writes about science for kids. You can follow her on Twitter @LelaNargi.