title camouflage

If you were in the ocean, could you spot the mimic octopus, sea dragon, stonefish, or flounder? 

These marine animals all use camouflage (KAM-uh-flahj), the ability to blend in or resemble an element of the surroundings.

Camouflage helps animals survive in different ways.

Some animals use camouflage to help them sneak up on their prey. By the time an unsuspecting prey notices its disguised predator—CHOMP!—it's too late.

Camouflage also helps some animals hide from their predators. They can instantly change the coloring and pattern on their skin if they need to hide against a different background.

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The coloring of the mimic octopus matches the sandy area it is lying on.

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This flounder can look like a sandy seafloor one minute, and a rocky bottom the next!

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The stonefish looks like a harmless stone, but it's covered with venomous spikes!

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The body of the sea dragon resembles the algae in its environment. 

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Create a model to show how a flounder blends in with its environment.

How does a flounder blend in with its environment?

"I lost 'er but I flound'er!"

Some flounders have a kind of skin cells called chromatophores (krow-MAT-uh-forz). Chromatophores contain colors, or pigments, that can change the skin's appearance. These cells change because they get a message from the brain. When flounders swim near the surface to feed, their skin becomes almost see-through. This helps them avoid predators below them. When they swim near the bottom, their skin can imitate the different colors and textures found on the seafloor. They can look like sand one minute, and a rocky bottom the next! One scientist even put a flounder against a checkerboard to see what would happen. In less than a minute, the flounder's body started to resemble the black and white squares of the gameboard!

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Some flounders are masters of disguise, able to blend into a variety of backgrounds. 

Why can't humans change their skin to match their surroundings?

Unlike some lucky sea animals, humans cannot change the color or pattern of their skin. (If we could, Halloween would never be the same!) Like all mammals, humans have only a single chromatophore, called a melanophore, which contains a colored chemical called melanin (MEH-la-nuhn). Melanin causes the skin to darken and creates skin colors from pink to brown to black. It also protects the skin from the Sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. When the skin is exposed to the Sun, more melanin is produced.

Image Credits:

Flounder, courtesy of NOAA Sea Grant Program, James P. McVey; Mimic octopus, courtesy of NOAA, Susan Ritman Macdonald; Stonefish, Jeffrey Rosenfeld; Sea dragon, courtesy of California Academy of Sciences, John White; large flounder photo, © Robert S. Michelson/AGE Fotostock; Flounder drawing, courtesy of AMNH.