Chameleons are often described as the “quick-change artists” of the animal kingdom, rapidly altering the shade of their skins to blend into their environment. But contrary to popular opinion, these tree-dwelling lizards are actually rather poor color-changers, as you can see in the clip below, which features a Madagascarian panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis):
While the creature's hue does change noticeably, the process takes several minutes and the eye-catching striped pattern on its sides remains intact—hardly the features of good camouflage. Furthermore, odds are that when you do see a chameleon change its color, it's probably trying to broadcast its mood rather than evade predators.
Nevertheless, the animal kingdom is filled with amazing color-changers, several of which dramatically outdo the chameleon clan in the skill of rapid-fire camouflage.
1. The Cuttlefish (Order: Sepiida)
Despite their cute-sounding name, these eccentric critters are actually cephalopods (the first of several you'll see on this list). Like many residents of their food chain, cuttlefish have to regularly switch between playing the roles of crafty predator and elusive prey. A group of specialized sacs which receive color-changing instructions directly from their brains help them to both grab a quick meal and avoid becoming one themselves.
2. The Peacock Flounder (Bothus mancus)
These flat fish are deadly predators thanks in part to a series of hormones that send pigment-modifying signals to their skin cells, which take effect within seconds. However, as you can see in the video below, their disguises aren't always perfect.
3. Various Squid Species
Several types of squid throughout the globe are capable of breathtaking color changes, such as this captive specimen filmed in a Turkish aquarium:
Recently, it was discovered that the series of pigment cells which control the color of these tentacled hunters could be synthetically manipulated by man-made electrical charges, as seen in the magnificent footage below:
4. Various Spider Species
A wide variety of eight-legged arachnids use camouflage to stalk their unsuspecting prey, including the bee-slaying white crab spider:
But amidst the 43,000 species known to science, a handful have even been known to engage in sudden spats of color-change. Among these are the genera Chrysso and Cryptophora, both of which hail from Australia.
5. The Cyanea Octopus (Octopus cyanea)
Using the same hue-shifting mechanism as its tentacled brethren, this inhabitant of the Indian and Pacific Oceans ups the ante by transforming the texture of its skin to match that of whatever it clings to.
6. The Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus)
Like a scene from John Carpenter's The Thing, these enigmatic octopuses take color change a step further still by not only revamping their pattern on a dime, but changing the very shape of their bodies to imitate a sea snake, lion fish, or piece of floating coral—to name but a few deep sea impressions the mimic octopus can convincingly pull off.
7. Golden Tortoise Beetle (Genus: Charidotella)
Sometimes, romance is reason enough to inspire a change in hue. According to some entomologists, the golden tortoise beetle of eastern North America turns scarlet while copulating. Interestingly, they'll also do this to scare off predators when threatened: The bright red display makes many predators believe that the beetles are poisonous and that they should look elsewhere for sustenance.