Little fish have it rough—there’s almost always a bigger fish who can’t wait to eat them. When it comes to surviving in the ocean, the best defense might just be the best disguise, and when it comes to disguises—here are ten sea creatures who have some amazing tricks up their sleeves.
While a “fangblenny” sounds like an Irish fairytale character, it’s actually a small fish found in the ocean tropics that can change its color. Depending on which fish it’s trying to sneakily blend in as, it can change to: olive, orange, black or electric blue.
While this works as the perfect way of hiding from danger, it’s worth noting the bluestriped fangblenny is a predator and could easily eat the fish it blends in with.
The mimic octopus puts the defenses of traditional squirt and run octopuses to shame—it’s able to not only change its colors, but can change its body to mimic completely different sea species.
It’s costumes include: sole fish, lion fish, sea snakes . . . possibly even jellyfish. By disguising itself as more threatening animals, the mimic octopus is able to scare away predators and move about the ocean freely.
The cockatoo waspfish is one of the laziest fish in the ocean. While other fish need to find nooks and crannies to hide in, the cockatoo waspfish simply floats along with the current. Since its body resembles a dead leaf, it’s largely ignored by potential predators.
The ghost pipefish, a relation to the seahorse, closely resembles sea grass. Long, thin, and unsurprisingly pipe-like, this fish floats near the ocean floor.
It doesn’t pursue food, preferring to suck in whatever tiny morsels happen to swim past its mouth. Generally, looking like grass is enough to keep a low profile—but as the ghost pipefish moves into a coral reef for breeding season, it slowly changes it’s color to match it’s new surroundings.
Leafy Sea Dragon
A big clue to predators that you’re a tasty meal waiting to happen is movement—well, the fins of the leafy sea dragon are almost completely transparent, making it very difficult to spot it when it moves. Its other fins look very similar to the seaweed the fish live in, making it perfectly disguised from hungry predators.
Just like human males must shower themselves before a hot date, so too must swordtail characin males disguise themselves before mating.
They don’t disguise themselves as a more attractive fish, however—that would be too easy. They actually have a stalk that extends out from their bodies which they can shape to look like food. When the females bite it, they also just conveniently happen to be in a perfect position for mating.
What’s better than coming up with your own disguise? Letting another animal do all the work for you, of course! The pearlfish simply backs itself into the anus of the sea cucumber and proceeds to live inside it. Sometimes they’ll float around with just their heads sticking out; other times they’ll enter completely to protect themselves from nearby predators.
The pearlfish actually eats part of the sea cucumber’s internal organs while it’s living in there, but as sea cucumbers are able to regrow damaged body parts, they don’t mind too much.
The Coleman shrimp looks very similar to the clownfish—a fish that’s bright neon orange and white, which tends to stick out while trying to hide in sea anemones. Unlike the clownfish, however, the Coleman shrimp has another trick up its fin. It has picked a better hiding spot.
The fire urchin is a similar shade of neon orange and has dark blue spines that match patterns on the coleman shrimp, allowing him to almost completely disappear from a predator’s view.
Black Marble Jawfish
Remember the mimic octopus we covered at number nine? Now, scientists have found a fish that mimics that octopus! While the mimic octopus is busy shape-shifting to look like a fish, the black marble jawfish comes in, sidles right in next to the octopus, and pretends to be one of its tentacles. This means the black marble fish not only gets access to whatever meal the mimic octopus happens to be eating, but can essentially use it as a giant eight-armed shield from predators.
By combining incredible stealth abilities with the incredible patience, the tasseled anglerfish is the reigning king of ocean camouflage. A little lure protrudes from its head and hangs right in front of its mouth, dangling like easy prey. Since it’s basically invisible already, it just floats and waits for some poor, hungry fish to take a bite, before chomping it down whole!