Surprising Shape-Shifting Organisms

The animal world is a beautiful, fascinating, and mysterious one. There are several parts of the world that we still have to explore, which means that many species are as yet undiscovered. As science progresses, it also uncovers a lot about animals that we didn’t know before.

Shape-shifters, for instance, aren’t very common. However, there are definitely some animals out there that can change their size and shape. We usually associate the term ‘space shifters’ with fictional and mythological creatures, but there are real ones to pique our interest.

Why Would an Animal Shift its Shape?

The reasons behind the actions of most organisms are fairly simple—animals do a certain action for survival, reproducing, communication, etc. When faced with a predator, for instance, there are three options open to any organism: fight, hide, or run. The last two options are more likely, especially if the animal is weaker and less prone to violence than the attacker.

Animals that shape-shift usually do so in response to some sort of threat from outside. This works out in their favor quite well especially as running for survival usually attracts a predator’s attention all the more. If they can shift their shape and blend in with their environment, they have a much higher chance of avoiding their attackers.

Another reason for shape-shifting is to attar prey. The orchid mantis uses this ability to attract stinging insects like bees, along with fruit flies and other insects. As the name of this species suggests, they can mimic some petals of the orchid flower, which makes it easier to catch their prey.

Examples of Shape-Shifting Organisms

We now come to some of the most interesting examples of shape-shifting organisms in the world today. Let’s start off with the recent frog discovery:

1. Mutable Rain Frog

This particular frog can change its texture within a fraction of a second. It was discovered back in 2006, which makes it a relatively recent discovery. Plus, it was several more years before the frog was actually reported within the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. This was because it took that long to locate another specimen of the same species. That fact alone is enough to tell us how effective the shape-shifting is.

The discovery of this species was within the Ecuadorian rainforest. It was found that this rain frog could completely change its exterior texture. The discovery wasn’t deliberate; a photographer took a picture of the frog and later captured it, only to find that the spines had vanished. The photographer and researcher though she had the wrong specimen at first.

Later on, the research team intended to return the frog to the wild. They had put it in a container with some moss for this purpose, but then found that the spines had come back.

What’s more, the same research team also managed to find out about another frog species that shows similar signs of shape-shifting. This was dubbed the Sobetes robber frog. This discovery opens up a lot of doors and questions: for one, is the shape-shifting ability actually present in several amphibian species and has just escaped notice?

As these are the first vertebrate examples of shape-shifting, the journey of new shape-shifting discoveries might only have begun.

2. Golden Tortoise Beetle

The chameleon is perhaps the most common example of color-shifting animals, but this beetle takes the changing to a new level. The golden tortoise beetle changes color in order to either blend in and avoid predators, or to attract mates and hence reproduce.

The main difference here is that it can change the finish of its exterior color. This phenomenon is made possible due to a sort of optic illusion. The beetle has several minuscule grooves in its shell. When these are filled with liquid, the body appears to be a shiny gold. When they’re drained, the color dulls and becomes more of a dull red.

Another transformation in this beetle is from the usual larval to adult stages. The hormonal changes occur due to metamorphosis as the cells grow and specialize over time.

3. Cuttlefish

This particular species can easily blend into its background by changing not just the color of its skin, but also the texture and patterns. This is achieved by changing the pigments in their exterior, which in turn changes the way the light reflects upon it. The changes are controlled by the organisms’ brain activity.

Additionally, cuttlefish can change their skin in order to frighten off predators or at least shock them into swimming off. They also make such changes for communicating with other members of their species. In fact, cuttlefish are sometimes called a cross-dressing organism, as the males sometimes deck themselves out as females. They do this to avoid confrontation with other males and safely mate after reaching the females.

4. Mimic Octopus

This octopus was first discovered near an Indonesian island in 1998. Like the cuttlefish, this sea organism blends into its background through a series of color and texture changes. The really impressive aspect of this transformation is that the octopus can actually mimic several other species. These include sea snakes, sea anemones, jellyfish, and lionfish.

The impersonated species number 13 so far, with most of them being poisonous. This protects the octopus from its predators. Plus, the dexterity of this animal means that it can change its behavior, mimicking the mating rituals of crabs, along with its shape. This ability is not to be confused with hybrid animals, which are a separate discussion of interest.

5. Puffer fish

Certain fish species can puff up to several times their original size. These include the aptly-named puffer fish and the porcupine fish. The largeness of their swollen bodies coupled with their spikes can present an alarming sight to any predator.

These fish inflate their bodies using either air or water. The result is that predators are less likely to confront them. Even if a predator still attacks, the chances of fitting a huge spiky ball into their mouths are low.

Another survival feature of these fish species is the toxin inside their bodies. This toxin is even deadlier than cyanide. This means that even if a predator sneaks up before the fish has a chance to puff up, that would probably be the last meal they have.

Nevertheless, puffer fish are still caught and prepared as a delicacy in certain countries, the most notable being Japan. It requires a high amount of training to prepare puffer fish in just the right way. Most people have to sign a contract before partaking of such a meal, which is considered a risky yet rewarding adventure.

Even with all the precautions from the chefs, statistics show that quite a few people die from consuming puffer fish ever year. You can also read up on some more of the deadliest animals on earth.


Most of these shape-shifting organisms have amazed researchers with their adaptiveness and resilience. It might also interest you to read about the most dangerous hunting animals out there. The more we know about the animal kingdom, the more we can appreciate its wonders despite the dangers involved.