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Fish Camouflage

by Kathy Kranking

Fakers and Foolers

This sea sponge is pretty, isn't it? Don't you just love its bright colors? Its cool shape? Its open mouth? Hey—wait a minute! Sea sponges don't have mouths!

April Fool! Turns out there's more here than a sea sponge. It's a sneaky frogfish doing its best sponge imitation! Can you see it among the real sponges?

The frogfish's disguise is great for fooling prey animals that come too close. The frogfish matches the harmless sponge so well that prey animals don't notice it. See the small, unsuspecting fish on the side of the frogfish's face? If it gets any closer to that mouth, it might become lunch! 

The frogfish is just one of many tricksters in the ocean. Read on to be fooled by more.

Fakers and Foolers


To a big, hungry fish, the pufferfish (top left) might look like a yummy, bite-sized snack. But if the enemy moves in to make a meal of the puffer, the puffer has a great trick. It begins to gulp up lots of water. As it does, its body puffs up until the puffer is more like a water balloon than a fish! (above) Most enemies would find a puffed-up puffer too hard a meal to swallow.


The butterflyfish (top right) is a faker. How? Check out that big spot near its tail. It's a fake eye. The fish's real eye is on the other end of its body, partly hidden by a stripe. If the butterflyfish is lucky, a predator will be fooled and attack where the eyespot is. That would cause less damage than if the enemy attacked the fish's head. So the butterflyfish can escape to keep on fooling another day.


If it looks like a cleaner fish, and it acts like a cleaner fish, it must be a cleaner fish, right? Not necessarily! Cleaner fish eat tiny pests from bigger fishes' bodies and from inside their mouths. That's what's happening above right. The cleaners often do a little dance to advertise that their "cleaning service" is open for business.

The sneaky saber-toothed blenny (small box above) plays a trick on the "customers." It does a little dance like a cleaner fish would do. But when a bigger fish comes to be cleaned, the hungry blenny takes a bite out of it!

Fakers and Foolers


To a predator, a sea cucumber may look pretty defenseless and easy to attack. But guess again, predator! The sea cucumber has a really weird trick. If a predator bothers it, the cucumber poops out part of its insides! (top left photo) The predator can get tangled in the sticky guts. Or it may even eat them while the cucumber safely crawls away! The cucumber's insides grow back in a few months.


Sea stars are super-slow movers, so they can't run away from hungry predators that come after them. But if a predator chomps off one of a sea star's arms, the sea star has a handy trick: It can grow the missing arm back again! And here's something even more amazing than that: Some sea stars can grow back a whole body from a single, broken-off arm! (above left)


Imagine that you're a hungry predator, looking for one of your favorite meals: octopus. As you swim along, something catches your eye. Is it a yummy octopus? Nope, just a feather star. You keep swimming. Well, guess what? The "feather star" wasn't what it seemed at all. It was just one of the many disguises of a mimic octopus (top right photo). This trickster can look like a variety of different creatures, including a flounder, a lionfish, a sea snake, and a stingray.

If the disguises don't work, the mimic octo can fall back on another trick: Almost all octopuses can squirt a cloud of ink when they're alarmed (above right). That can confuse an enemy long enough for the octopus to jet away to safety.

Now you know the tricky truth about ocean April Foolers!

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