Meet Maui Ocean Center's Camouflage Champions - Maui Ocean Center

Meet Maui Ocean Center’s Camouflage Champions

February 10, 2022


Beyond the water’s edge, there is abundant marine life of all shapes, sizes, and colors. If you look closely, you’ll notice many of these animals can cleverly disguise themselves to evade predators or sneakily stalk prey. So let’s dive into some of the hidden talents of marine life found at Maui Ocean Center.

Day Octopus

day octopus

This charismatic cephalopod is first on our list because, really, who is more transformative than the octopus? The day octopus is capable of squeezing into nooks and crannies on the seafloor, and although it’s completely colorblind, it can change color in the blink of an eye. Millions of pigment cells, known as chromatophores, allow this fascinating color change to occur. During the color-changing process, these cells are flooded with pigment, enabling the animal to rapidly react to their surroundings to conceal themselves. And their talents don’t stop there. The day octopus can also change its texture (the fibers in their skin that contract and release to change texture are called papillae), allowing it to effortlessly become one with the ocean landscape.

Peacock Flounder

At first, the image above might appear to be a sandy seafloor. Behold, the talented peacock flounder! This fish can swoop down to the sand at the drop of a hat, instantly concealing its identity and effectively hiding from predators. Flounders also utilize their camouflage abilities when hunting, waiting for the best opportunity to claim their meal. When hidden beneath the sand, these animals will wait patiently with only their eyes exposed. Peacock flounders have “eyelashes” that resemble algae growing on the seafloor. These appendages simultaneously aid in camouflage and luring herbivorous prey searching for food near the sand.


Tiger Shark

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All sharks have built-in camouflage known as countershading. Countershading is a handy tool for pelagic sea creatures, such as sharks, rays, porpoises, and whales. These animals have a darker shade on the top (dorsal) of their body and a lighter or white shade on their underside (ventral side). This provides a clever way for larger animals to disguise themselves from predators looking down at them from above or looking up at them from below. Tiger sharks, however, have an added concealment with their “tiger” striping. Their stripes mimic the movement of the ocean’s surface above them, adding an additional layer to their sneakiness.


Frogfish are undoubtedly curious creatures. These carnivores expertly evade predators by remaining perfectly still amongst similarly textured reef or underwater foliage until ready to strike, and different species are uniquely colored to blend into specific backgrounds. For instance, Commerson’s frogfish are bright orange, which allows them to integrate into identically colored sea sponges, while sargassum frogfish closely resemble limu (seagrass) and hide amongst floating algae. Frogfish are close relatives to anglerfish and share a “lure” with their deep-sea cousins. These lures sway back and forth in front of the frogfish’s mouth to simulate easily catchable prey, attracting their meal closer to them before striking.


You’ll have to look closely to spot a scorpionfish on the reefs. These tricky fish have a built-in disguise that helps them thrive in their environments. Texture, coloration, and their ability to lurk in plain sight help them succeed when hunting their prey. These fish have few predators due to the venomous spines that coat their bodies. Because these fish blend in so seamlessly with coral reefs, it’s imperative not to step on the reef when out snorkeling or diving.

Discover more marine life at the maui ocean center

Day Octopus

There are 76 recorded species of cephalopod in Hawaiʻi. Of them, the day octopus (Octopus cyanea), or heʻe mauli, is the most commonly observed. Day octopuses are usually most active during the early morning and late afternoon. Since they are active during the day, the octopus must use their incredible camouflage abilities to hunt unnoticed. Using their ability to change their skin color and texture at will, the octopus can seemingly disappear at a moment's notice to resemble their surroundings and protect themselves from predation.

Smooth Seahorse

Seahorses are true bony fishes with curved trunks, heads resembling a horse's head, and tails capable of grasping and holding on to strands of seaweed or algae. The smooth seahorse (Hippocampus kuda) is appropriately named as it lacks the spines common of other species. They are relatively rare (even after a population boom in 2005) and are most often seen in protected locations at shallow depths. They exhibit a mottled color from light to dark brown, depending on their surroundings.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

Hawaiian green sea turtles, or honu, are native to Hawaiʻi. They are the largest hard-shelled sea turtle in the world, reaching lengths of four feet and weighing over 300 pounds. Out of the seven types of sea turtle, the Hawaiian green sea turtle is the most common in Hawaiian waters.

Hawaiian Monk Seal

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, less than 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals remain. Their Hawaiian name ‘ilioholoikauaua means “dog that runs in rough seas.”

Blacktip Reef Shark

Of the 40 species of sharks found in Hawai‘i, the blacktip reef shark is among the most common due to the areas it inhabits. The blacktip reef shark prefers shallow inshore areas where it is less vulnerable to larger species of sharks in the open ocean. The blacktip reef shark is easily identified by the prominent blacktips on its fins. In Hawai‘i, blacktip reef sharks will reach an average of 5.5 feet in length.

Humpback Whale

Maui Ocean Center respectfully complies with the County of Maui ordinance prohibiting the exhibit of cetaceans (marine mammals including whales, dolphins, and monk seals), and instead provide opportunities to learn about these animals through interpretive displays in the Humpbacks of Hawaiʻi Exhibit, naturalist presentations, and volunteers from organizations in Maui's community.


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