19 Impressive Animals That Can Naturally Change Colors

pygmy seahorse camouflaging with coral

Animals come in nearly every color imaginable, from mammals with neutral brown coloring to frogs with vibrant reds, blues, and yellows. Many animals can also naturally change their colors. These color-changing features usually depend on the animal’s environment and life stage, but it’s impressive that so many creatures can alter their appearance drastically.

Feast your eyes on these amazing animals that change colors to adapt to their surroundings.

1. Chameleon

colorful panther chameleon clinging to branch

Chameleons are a classic color-changing animal that everyone knows about. There are over 150 chameleon species, all of which can alter the appearance of their colorful scales. However, their abilities aren’t quite the same as cartoons make it seem. Most people picture chameleons changing colors to blend in with their surroundings, but in real life, that’s rarely the case.

The most common reasons chameleons change colors are maintaining body temperature, communicating, and expressing moods. Since they’re cold-blooded animals, their body temperature changes with the environment, which can cause their coloring to change too. They can also change colors to show other chameleons how they’re feeling, assert dominance, or look for a mate.

2. Seahorse

seahorse turning red like coral

Seahorses can change colors just like chameleons. They have tiny organs in their skin known as chromatophores, which contain pigments that can expand or contract to reveal different colors. Most seahorses can appear brown, black, yellow, gray, gold, or beige, but the exact color pattern varies between species.

They can change their skin color or grow skin filaments to blend in with their surroundings. In those cases, their nervous system will act fast to change their colors so they can protect themselves in time. They can also alter their appearance to communicate with other seahorses and attract a mate, which is caused by their hormones.

3. Arctic Hare

arctic hare exploring tundra rocks

Arctic hares are known for their fluffy white coats that help them blend into snow, but these mammals actually change colors with the seasons. In the spring, they start to turn gray, and in the summer, they’re often brown. A few similar hare species, such as mountain hares and snowshoe hares also have this unique change in color.

This coloring change is thought to be linked to the amount of daylight, so more exposure to the sun causes darker coloring. Yet, it’s also beneficial for the hares since their brown coloring is more suitable for the dirt that appears when the snow melts. Unfortunately, climate change has made it harder for these hares to camouflage year-round. Many of them turn white before snow falls in the winter, making it easier for predators to spot them.

4. Arctic Fox

arctic fox with autumn coat pouncing

Like arctic hares, arctic foxes often go through a similar color change. Arctic foxes that live far north tend to stay white year-round, but foxes living in areas with normal season changes turn gray and brown in the warmer months, likely related to the length of sunlight. Their coats in the winter are also much denser to protect them from the cold.

Their change in appearance helps them blend into seasonal surroundings better and be properly insulated depending on the weather. Even though arctic foxes are carnivores, they still have predators, which is why they need to camouflage during all seasons.

5. Flounder

flounder blending in with sand

These fish have flat bodies that help them hide on the ground or in small spaces. Their ability to change color helps protect them even further. They can quickly alter their coloring to match their surroundings, which makes it harder for predators to spot them. However, flounders rely on seeing their surroundings to change colors, so flounders with vision problems have a harder time changing colors.

Flounders usually have neutral colors, but they can alter those colors to resemble the texture of the ground beneath them. So, their coloring could go from looking like a sandy beach to rocky terrain in seconds.

6. Crab Spider

white crab spider on yellow flower

This family of spiders gets its name because of the spider’s crab-like appearance and behaviors. They have long front legs and are capable of quickly moving sideways. They’re one of the few arachnids that can change back and forth between colors. These spiders typically alter their coloring to help them blend into various plants while they wait to pounce on their prey.

To change colors, these spiders secrete pigments to the outer cells of their bodies. For example, Misumena vatia, a species of crab spider, uses that technique to switch between yellow and white, depending on what flowers they need to blend into. The process of changing colors can take 6 to 25 days, depending on which color the spider is changing to and the species of crab spider.

7. Golden Tortoise Beetle

golden tortoise beetle resting on leaf

Golden tortoise beetles are named for their beautiful golden coloring. However, that gold pigment is only present when the beetles are relaxed and content. When threatened, the gold part of the beetle’s back may turn reddish-orange with a few black spots. It’s the same color that this creature displays after it dies.

The switch from gold to orange is based on how much water is in the outer layer of the beetle’s exoskeleton. When one of these beetles gets spooked, water drains from the exterior, making the shiny gold coloring become dull. Once the beetle recovers and relaxes, its shell should become hydrated again.

8. Octopus

mimic octopus camouflaging with sand

Octopuses can be colorful, but they can also change their coloring and the texture of their skin to blend into their surroundings. Since octopuses are soft-bodied animals, they need these camouflage features to protect them from predators. Plus, the flexible bodies of these animals make it easy for them to hide in small spaces and avoid predators.

Like seahorses, octopuses have thousands of cells called chromatophores beneath their skin. Those cells are filled with different pigments, such as red, brown, orange, yellow, and black. By expanding certain chromatophores, octopuses can quickly alter their appearance to match their environment.

9. Cuttlefish

cuttlefish blending into ocean floor

Cuttlefish are similar to octopuses because of their soft, flexible bodies and aquatic environments. So, they can also alter their coloring, texture, and reflectance. They often use these abilities to camouflage and protect themselves, but they may also use them to communicate with others of their species.

Like other aquatic animals, cuttlefish use the chromatophores under their skin to adjust their coloring. They have millions of chromatophores, allowing them to display a wide variety of color patterns. Their color patterns typically include red, brown, black, orange, and yellow, just like an octopus.

10. Squid

squid in bright blue water

Squids are another cephalopod (like octopuses and cuttlefish) that can change colors in the blink of an eye. Like the other animals in their family, they rely on the chromatophores in their bodies to help them alter their appearance. By doing so, they can also change their skin texture to make them closely mimic the ground beneath them.

For squids, changing colors is mostly a camouflage technique to help them hide from predators. However, they may use certain colors to communicate with other squids, such as using bold colors to attract mates and pale colors to avoid fights.

11. Pacific Tree Frog

pacific tree frog on green moss

Sometimes, this species of tree frog is bright green, while other times, it’s dull brown. That’s because these frogs can alter the color of their skin. This ability is used to blend in with the environment to protect the frogs from danger. After all, frogs have sensitive skin, making them vulnerable to predators. However, there could be other benefits to these color-changing abilities, such as temperature regulation.

These amphibians change color based on environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity. So, during warmer weather, they’re often green to match the bright grass and plants around them. As the environment gets colder and plants die, they typically turn brown as a result.

12. Anole

green anole turning brown

Anoles, the little lizards frequently seen scurrying across the sidewalks in Florida, naturally change colors. Green anoles have a bright green hue when they’re healthy, but they could turn brown if they’re cold or stressed. Since green anoles are sometimes kept as pets, owners need to take action if they notice their green anole has brown coloring.

Brown anoles, which more commonly appear in the wild, can’t turn green. However, their skin can appear lighter brown, dark brown, gray, or black. The temperature, lighting, and lizard’s mood all play a role in the skin color. Healthy brown anoles typically have a light brown pattern.

13. Ptarmigan

white and brown ptarmigan on rock

A ptarmigan is a type of bird that resembles a partridge. These birds typically have different colored plumage in the winter versus the summer. When it’s cold outside, their feathers are pure white to blend in with the snow. Then, as the weather gets warmer, their feathers slowly turn brown instead to better match the environment.

Ptarmigans usually molt three times throughout the year, and when they do so, their new feathers are a different color based on the season. If ptarmigans feel threatened before they molt their white feathers, they may purposely make their plumage dirty to help them blend in until their brown feathers grow in.

14. Frogfish

yellow frogfish camouflaging with coral

Frogfish are capable of changing colors to match the environment, but this process takes much longer than it does for other aquatic creatures. While an octopus can change its appearance within seconds, frogfish can take days or weeks to change. These fish typically move slowly and spend a lot of time waiting for prey to pass, which is why they don’t need their appearance to change rapidly.

A frogfish’s body naturally adapts to its environment by changing colors to blend in. For example, if the frogfish spends time resting in a dark area, its coloring will gradually become darker as well. If a frogfish sits in the same spot for long enough, its body will look just like the sponge, rock, or coral that it’s sitting on.

15. Mantis Shrimp

mantis shrimp crawling on sand

Mantis shrimp are capable of changing colors to match their surroundings. They can appear green like kelp or light brown like the sandy ocean floor. This ability not only helps protect them from predators but also helps them hide when they’re hunting prey.

Lighting and surroundings play a role in a mantis shrimp’s coloring. For example, mantis shrimps that live deep underwater are more likely to have dark color patterns, while those closer to the surface are often more vibrant. They may also change colors when they molt.

16. Bignose Unicornfish

two pale bignose unicornfish swimming

Despite being called a unicornfish, this tang doesn’t have a signature horn like other unicornfish species. The coloring of the bignose unicornfish can vary greatly depending on the fish’s age and environment. Young fish are often bright green, while the adults are typically gray or brown with yellow and blue patterns.

Adults of this species can voluntarily change between dark and pale colors. They may change colors to camouflage or attract a mate, but they also alter their appearance to help cleaner fish. Parasites often find their way onto the fish’s back, so if the fish turns pale, it’s easier for cleaner fish to find the parasites and eat them.

17. Mosquitofish

mosquitofish swimming near rocks

Mosquitofish get their name because they’re known for eating mosquito larvae. They normally have shimmering gray scales, but they can adapt their coloring to better fit their surroundings. This adaptation can make it harder for predators to find them, allowing them to eat more young mosquitos. One fish can eat hundreds of mosquito larvae per day.

This species’ color-changing abilities seem to be related to lighting. They have lighter scales when light is shining on them, but when they’re in darker environments, their appearance is also dark.

18. Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian vulture with dirty feathers flying

These birds have a unique way of changing colors. Instead of their plumage naturally changing with the weather or seasons, they find ways to adjust their appearance, almost as if they’re putting makeup on. Egyptian vultures often rub soil all over their bodies to make their white feathers turn brown. The exact reason is unknown, but it could be for camouflage or to attract a mate. They may also be doing it to keep themselves healthy by deterring bacteria and viruses.

Egyptian vultures have another color-changing method that seems disgusting to humans. Females are more attracted to males with bright yellow faces. So, male vultures have a habit of eating feces from large animals like cows, sheep, and goats because it helps keep their faces vibrant yellow. While this increases their chances of getting a mate, it also increases the risk of parasites.

19. Ribbon Eel

blue ribbon eel with yellow face

Ribbon eels change color with age and gender, and their gender differs depending on their life stage. As juveniles, these eels don’t have a specific gender, and they have dark coloring with a bright yellow stripe down their back. Then, as they mature, they become bright blue while still having a yellow back. Ribbon eels that are mostly blue are always males.

However, as the ribbon eel continues to grow, it eventually becomes a female. Female ribbon eels are almost completely yellow. Once they reach that point in life, they’re able to lay eggs. So, the varying colors of these eels don’t provide any camouflage benefits, but it makes it easy to tell how old an eel is and what gender they are.