Masters of Camouflage

There are so many plants and animals to explore under the sea and none of them are boring. Life on the sand and in the waves has forced species to evolve in beautiful and bizarre ways to ensure their survival. Their natural history and alien shapes are never dull and sometimes even astonishing. In the four-part series Kingdom of the Oceans, National Geographic explores some of the most interesting and lesser-known ocean dwellers. Perhaps the most fascinating are the ones that have mastered underwater camouflage. These three animals are masters!

Leafy Sea Dragon

The leafy sea dragon is found in the warm coastal waters of Australia. It is a relative to the more commonly known sea horse, but it is definitely the flashier cousin. The leafy sea dragon has evolved to look so much like seaweed that they are at times impossible to spot when in their favorite hangout, kelp. They don’t just look like a part of the vegetation; they act like it as well. Leafy sea dragons mimic leafy weeds by drifting with ocean currents. While floating along, the sea dragons spend their energy snacking on sea lice or tiny crustaceans. Just like sea horses, male sea dragons bear young. They are excellent fathers, carrying eggs protectively underneath their tails for four to six weeks.


The cuttlefish, is not a fish at all, but a cephalopod and a relative of octopuses and squid. The cuttlefish can change its shape and alter its skin color so that it remains hidden from danger by impersonating its surroundings. A cuttlefish may look like a patch of sand, a chunk of coral or even a clump of algae. There are ten million color cells in the cuttlefish’s skin and these cells function together like a high-definition TV. In fact, the cuttlefish has mastered color change to such a degree that the U.S. military has studied the animal, hoping that they might learn a thing or two more about camouflage techniques.

Mimic Octopus

The mimic octopus is one of the most amazing creatures in the sea and it is a startling-shape shifter. All octopus species are very vulnerable to predators in the sea. Their soft bodies have no shell and therefore they need other means of protection and camouflage is effective. The mimic octopus however, is a cephalopod that has taken this technique to another level.

This cephalopod can alter its appearance by, among other ruses, flattening out to appear as a poisonous sole, swimming surrounded by its floating arms to impersonate the lionfish, which has venomous fins, and changing the colors on its arms to make it look like poisonous sea snakes. More than changing it appearance it also mimics the behaviors of animals it is pretending to be.  All octopus species are highly intelligent and choose the most effective predator to emulate in order for its costume to be most effective. The mimic octopus is one smart cephalopod!

These three amazing creatures are just three of the surprising animals that dwell in the sea. Watch Kingdom of Oceans: Sand Wars and discover more beautiful feats of nature. While the seabed often appears empty at first glance, the seemingly barren sands actually hide not just these amazing masters of camouflage, but multitudes of other bizarre creatures that disappear into the sands, fish that walk across the ocean floor and fish that appear to dance on their heads while hunting prey. Tune in to watch Kingdom of the Oceans: Sand Wars this Sunday March 17 at 9PM et/pt and get lost in an incredible undersea world!