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Filefish can Camouflage in just 2 Seconds

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Caroline Reid

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clockJun 22 2015, 13:18 UTC
664 Filefish can Camouflage in just 2 Seconds
Slender filefish hiding in the coral. John A. Anderson/Shutterstock

Now you see me, now you don't. This little fish is a master of quick change. It is able to change its appearance in between one and three seconds. Some sea creatures are known to change their appearance to blend in with their backgrounds, but this fish's remarkably speedy ability o-fish-ally gives other animals a run for their money.

The critter is a slender filefish (Monacanthus tuckeri) and it is found in the shallow waters of the Caribbean Sea. Its color-changing skin pigment is essential for survival as it helps the fish avoid being spotted by hungry predators. 

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"It was just incredible watching the animal go from one gorgonian to the next and really quickly change its pattern," Justine Allen, from Brown University, tells New Scientist. Allen saw these masters of disguise while diving in the Caribbean.

 

 

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The quick-change ability of the slender filefish. NASA.

The color-changing happens when the fish's brain picks up visual information from its surroundings. The brain then sends this information to the skin's pigment-containing cells which respond accordingly. The pigment can either clump together at the centre of the pigment-cell to cover a small area of skin, or spread out over the entire cell to cover a large surface area. The slender filefish can adapt its pigment extremely quickly as it swims around the Caribbean coral.

Another secret to the fish's spy-gadget-esque properties is in its dermal flaps. This sexy-sounding feature comprises small projections that protrude from the skin. Allen says "They are like itty-bitty trees on the skin." 

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There is still beauty in the fish's scales. Like the bumpy surface of a Van Gogh painting. The dermal flaps are textured and often resemble underwater structures: coral polyps, small clumps of sand or bits of algae. 

These skin flaps also help to blur the outline of the fish, merging them with the landscape. Like blending pastels on a picture.

 

 

A video that also demonstrates the slender filefish's ability to change color. 

Their skin flaps and camouflage ability are effective enough to bamboozle a barracuda, confuse a crab or even stump a scientist. "These animals have tricked my visual system more than once," Allen says. "The slender filefish's fast, adaptive camouflage behavior is remarkable."

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They say any-fin is possible!

[Via Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, New Scientist]


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