Marine camouflage: these colourful underwater creatures are masters of disguise
These underwater creatures are masters of deception so cleverly adapted to their environment that many would never be found without expert knowledge. Brandon Cole, a photographer from Washington state on the west coast of the US, uses his expertise as a marine biologist to hunt for the almost invisible animals.
A Coleman’s shrimp camouflaged among spines of a poisonous fire sea urchin in Indonesia
"My pictures show hidden marine life blending into the background of the reef or seabed," said Brandon. "They’re hard to find – you don’t see them straight away. Sometimes you happen upon them – but many of them require a search pattern. For example when hunting a cowrie snail on a soft coral you have to know it lives in association with that particular coral. So you look for the host and then look for a needle in a hay stack – but you have to know which hay stacks to look for first."
A ridged egg cowrie snail hidden among soft coral in Indonesia
Brandon explains why these creatures take such trouble to remain hidden. "It has to do with survival," he said. "They adapt to their environment through natural selection. Most of these animals are camouflaged against the background of their natural habitat. This increases their odds of survival so they are less likely to be found by predators. Many are small and defenceless so rely on this trick to survive."
A leafy sea dragon in South Australia
The double-ended pipe fish not only looks like the sea grass it lives within but also mimics the swaying motion of the grass as it is moved by sea currents.
A double-ended pipefish among sea grasses in Indonesia
Brandon has travelled the world to capture his pictures, and says: "I think a great place to go to see mimicry in action is Lembeh Strait in Sulawesi, Indonesia. It’s an especially critter rich habitat where lots of camouflage is present."
A bearded scorpionfish hides in a coral garden in Indonesia
Another bearded scorpionfish camouflaged against a reef in Thailand
A harlequin crab on a sea cucumber in Indonesia
A peacock flounder camouflaged on sand in Dominica
A hairy frogfish in Indonesia
An octopus camouflaged against sand near a sea grass bed in a shallow bay in Australia
A devil scorpionfish well camouflaged in Hawaii
A speckled sanddab in California
A crocodilefish in Indonesia
A crinoid squat lobster which matches the colour of its host crinoid (feather star) in Thailand
Golden Wentletrap snails laying eggs on cup corals in the Pacific Ocean in Baja, Mexico
A sea star shrimp living on underside of a blue sea star in Indonesia
An ornate ghost pipefish well camouflaged next to a crinoid (a feather star) in Indonesia
A painted frogfish camouflaged against sponge in Indonesia