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20 Animals That Change Color (With Pictures)

You can see all kinds of colors when you observe animals in the wild, including earthy tones and vibrant shades. However, there are some animals that don’t limit themselves to a single hue. Animals that change color can shift from one color to another, dramatically changing their appearance.

Some animals can alter their color in the blink of the eye, while other creatures change their shade over a longer period of time. Read on to learn more about how and why animals are able to go from one color to another.

20 Animals That Change Color

There are several animals that can change colors as a form of camouflage, but animals can alter their hues for other reasons as well. From reptiles to insects to mammals, these are some of the many creatures that are capable of changing their color!

1. Chameleon

Chameleon on tree branch
Chameleon on tree branch

The chameleon is known for its ability to rapidly change its colors. These lizards have tiny nanocrystals beneath their skin cells. When chameleons stretch their skin cells, they’re able to change the way their skin reflects light.

While people usually assume that chameleons change colors to blend in with their surroundings, there are actually many reasons these lizards change colors. Shifting colors can help chameleons regulate their body temperature, express changes in mood, and communicate with other chameleons.

2. Octopus

Giant Pacific Octopus
Giant Pacific Octopus

While the octopus is famous for having eight arms, these marine animals are also able to shift hues. Beneath the skin of octopuses, you’ll find chromatophores, which are tiny organs that change color!

Every chromatophore contains sacs of xanthommatin, a pigment that can absorb some wavelengths of light. When an octopus contracts its muscles, it can open up these sacs, which changes the shade of its skin. Some octopus species, like the mimic octopus, have additional organs that give them more control over their color.

3. Hare

Arctic Hare
Arctic Hare Zuzanna Musial from Pixabay

Several hare species change their colors with the season, including mountain and Arctic hares. These changes can help hares avoid predators. For example, the snowshoe hare changes from brown to white in the winter, which helps it to blend in with the snow.

When days start to get longer, hares shed their fur and grow new fur that’s a different color. As days grow shorter, hares shed their fur again and go through another color change.

4. Grouper

Grouper | Image by Paul Brennan from Pixabay

These fish can change themselves in all kinds of ways. Many grouper species are born female, but are able to change their sex when they reach maturity. It’s also common for groupers to change colors when they’re stressed or want to blend in with their surroundings.

Some grouper species, like the Caribbean coney, are even able to change their patterns. When this fish is under threat, it can shrink the markings on its scales so that it can hide itself in coral.

5. Spider

Goldenrod crab spider
Goldenrod crab spider | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

There are more than 45,000 known spider species, and quite a few of these arachnids are capable of shifting colors! Several crab spider species, like the whitebanded crab spider and the goldenrod crab spider, can change colors to blend in with their surroundings.

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Some male peacock spiders can also create colorful patterns on their abdomens! Their abdomens are covered in special scales. These scales can reflect visible and ultraviolet light, allowing spiders to alter their color with a slight shift in movement.

6. Green Anole

Green anole
Green anole

While Green anoles are sometimes referred to as American chameleons, they’re actually a different type of lizard! These reptiles are able to shift from a dark brown to a bright shade of green. Some anoles have color mutations, allowing them to take on hues like red or blue!

Anoles have three layers of pigment cells and can release melanin, changing their skin from green to brown. Experts aren’t sure why anoles change colors, but many scientists believe it’s a way for these lizards to regulate their temperatures.

7. Hogfish

Hogfish in an aquarium
Hogfish in an aquarium

The hogfish is able to shift colors to match its environment, which means it can be red, brown, or white! Not only do these rapid color changes help hogfish hide from predators, but it lets them sneak up on prey!

When male hogfish are trying to attract mates, they can also temporarily display brightly colored patterns! Hogfish are able to alter their hues by changing the concentration of pigments beneath their skin.

8. Flounder

Flounder Fish
Flounder | image by Liz Lawley via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Not every flounder can change colors, but many species have pigment-filled chromatophore cells underneath their skin. When these fish transmit what they see to their brain, their brain sends signals to these cells, triggering a color change.

The peacock flounder can blend in with almost any pattern, making it a master of camouflage. In one study, this fish was even able to mimic the pattern on a checkerboard! Other species, like the summer flounder, are capable of less dramatic color shifts.

9. Lemming

Collared lemming in its burrow
Collared lemming in its burrow | image by Alaska Region U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

There are lots of myths surrounding these small rodents, but many people don’t know that lemmings change colors with the seasons! Unlike many rodents, lemmings don’t hibernate in the winter. Some lemming species, like the collared lemming, can change the color of their fur to adapt to their changing environment.

It’s common for lemmings to molt in the autumn and the spring, giving them a brand-new fur color! Typically, lemmings will go from a tawny brown to a winter white.

10. Cuttlefish

Reaper cuttlefish 
Reaper cuttlefish  | image by John Turnbull via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Despite its name, the cuttlefish isn’t actually a fish at all! It’s a vertebrate that can change both the color and the texture of its skin! Cuttlefish are masters of shifting hues and can change colors in several ways.

Like many color-changing creatures, cuttlefish have chromatophore cells that it uses to release and remove pigment from its skin. A cuttlefish’s body is divided into four sections. It can change the color of its entire body or shift the hue of a specific body part!

11. Stoat

Stoat in grassland
Stoat in grassland | Image by Dr. Georg Wietschorke from Pixabay

Sometimes known as ermines, stoats are mammals that are closely related to weasels. The stoat changes its coat with each season, and it alters the color of its coat as well.

In the spring and summer, a stoat can be gray, brown, or black. When winter draws near, the stoat slowly sheds its fur and grows a new white coat! Usually, the stoat leaves the tip of its tail black so that it can confuse predators.

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12. Tree Frog

Gray tree frog
Gray tree frog | Image by Pam Carter from Pixabay

The term “tree frog” refers to any kind of frog that spends most of its life in trees. There are over 800 different tree frog species, and a number of these species can rapidly shift from one color to another.

Gray tree frogs usually change colors to fit in their environment, going from gray to brown to green depending on their location. The Australian green tree frog can take on bright hues, like purple and blue!

13. Golden Tortoise Beetle

Golden tortoise beetle
Golden tortoise beetle

Many beetle species are known for their bright or iridescent shells, but the golden tortoise beetle has a shell that’s transparent. This shell is covered in tiny grooves. You can see right through the shell and glimpse the colors underneath.

When the weather is humid, these grooves fill with moisture, making it harder to see the layers under its shell. This makes it look like the beetle is a completely different color! If the moisture dries up, this beetle will change its color again!

14. Ptarmigan

Willow ptarmigan on rocky ground
Willow ptarmigan on rocky ground | image by Peter Swaine via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Also known as grouses, ptarmigans are a type of game bird! These birds are known for changing their color along with the season. The ptarmigan starts molting in April and continues to molt through November, which means its plumage looks different throughout the year.

When a ptarmigan has finished molting, its feathers are completely white. This makes it easy for the bird to hide itself in the snow. In early spring, the ptarmigan starts to grow dark brown colors, changing its color again!

15. Bearded Dragon

Bearded dragon on the floor
Bearded dragon on the floor

There are quite a few lizards that can change colors, but bearded dragons are able to alter the shade of specific body parts. It’s common to see these reptiles changing the color of their backs, necks, and beards.

Experts believe that bearded dragons use color changes to communicate with their fellow lizards. These color shifts are usually followed by a head bob. Changing the color of its back also helps the bearded dragon maintain its internal temperature.

16. Seahorse

A sea horse
A sea horse

In the wild, you can find seahorses in many different shades, including bold, multicolored shades. However, since seahorses have chromatophores in their skin, they can change colors at any time.

Most seahorses have three or four pigments in each chromatophore, allowing it to take on many different hues. Seahorses control these changes via their hormones or their nervous systems. Color shifts triggered by hormones tend to be slow, but the nervous system response can change a seahorse’s color in a fraction of a second.

17. Hummingbird

Gummingbird GeorgiaLens from Pixabay

The hummingbird is known for its bright, colorful plumage. If you watch a hummingbird closely, you may find that it shifts between several shades. Hummingbirds usually flap their wings at least 10 times per second, and as it moves its wings, its color may seem to change.

Not only does the hummingbird have iridescent feathers, but it has air bubbles on the surface of these feathers. This causes the feathers to reflect and refract light. These changes make it look like the hummingbird is quickly changing colors!

18. Round Island Boa

Round island boa
Round Island Boa | image by Simon J. Tonge via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 3.0

Some reptiles can shift hues in an instant, but these small snakes change colors at a much slower pace. At the start of the day, the Round Island Boa is a dark color. It gradually becomes lighter and brighter as the day goes on.

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These slow changes occur thanks to the snake’s polychromatic skin cells. During the day, its darker color lets it absorb more light from the sun. At night, when it’s most active, the snake is a much lighter shade.

19. Arctic Fox

Arctic foxes
Arctic fox David Mark from Pixabay

True to its name, this fox is typically found in arctic biomes. It’s adapted to surviving in cold environments, and one of these adaptations is the ability to change the color of its fur!

Throughout the year, the arctic fox goes through several color changes. Usually, these foxes have thick, bright white fur in the winter. When temperatures are warmer, the fox has a lighter coat that can be reddish-brown, brown, or gray depending on the time of year.

20. Squid

Squid swimming
Squid swimming

Under a squid’s skin, there are thousands of color-changing chromatophores. As these chromoatophores shrink and swell, a squid can shift between many different hues. Squids can also alter the size of bumps on their skin’s surface, changing its texture.

When a squid dies, all of its muscles relax. This causes the chromatophores beneath its skin to shrink, making it look as though it’s been drained of color. Some squid species turn completely white when they’re killed.

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