Halloween is a great excuse to throw on a costume and pretend to be someone or something else for just one night. Marine animals can “wear costumes” too, but it’s not for fun – it’s for survival. Camouflage allows animals to blend in with their surroundings, so they can hide from predators or hide from prey before they ambush them.

These are just some of the Aquarium animals that “dress up”:

A graceful decorator crab photographed in the ocean.

A graceful decorator crab photographed in the ocean.

Graceful decorator crab (Oregonia gracilis)
This animal “decorates” itself by hooking pieces of algae and small animals to its shell (exoskeleton). The graceful decorator crabs in the B.C. Tidal Waters exhibit have placed strawberry anemones and sponge bits on themselves. They blend in well with their surroundings, so you’ll have to have keen eyes to find these crabs. Look for them in the Teck Connections Gallery.

Millions of colour cells (chromatophores) expand and contract, changing the octopus' colour.

Millions of colour cells (chromatophores) expand and contract, changing the octopus’ colour.

Giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini)
This master of disguise can change the colour and texture of its skin in an instant. After looking at something (ex. its surroundings), a signal is sent to its brain, which then continues on to millions of colour cells (chromatophores, plus leucophores and iridophores) throughout its body. These cells then expand and contract, which makes the colours more vibrant (when expanded) or muted (when contracted). See it in the Treasures of the BC Coast gallery.

Dwarf cuttlefish (Sepia bandensis)
Dwarf cuttlefish skin shimmers because of microscopic reflecting cells (iridophores and leucophores). The iridophores reflect iridescent silvers, greens and blues, while the leucophores reflect the hues of the surrounding environment, making the cuttlefish blend in even more. A cuttlefish’s camouflaging ability is a phenomenon that has to be seen to be believed. Search for them in the Tropic Zone and checkout BBC’s “Can Cuttlefish camouflage in a living room?” to see the the full extent of their camouflaging ability below.

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Happy Halloween!

Written by Karen Horak, writer-editor, content and digital experience at the Vancouver Aquarium.

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