11 Fish That Can Change Color + Reasons For Color Change

11 Fish That Can Change Color + Reasons For Color Change

Image of bright color fish

Some fish species are extremely good at changing color. So, what fish can change color?

Fish that can change color are:

  • Peacock Flounder,
  • Scrawled Filefish,
  • Caribbean Reef Squid,
  • Hogfish,
  • Flamboyant Cuttlefish,
  • Mimic Octopus,
  • Giant Cuttlefish,
  • Tasselled Anglerfish,
  • Lionfish,
  • Peacock Cichlid, and
  • Silver Arowana.

Let’s take a detailed look at each of these fish now.

Fish That Can Change Color

Most fish change color as they grow.

However, some fish can change color rapidly to adapt to their environment and disguise themselves.

Following are the fish that can change color.

Peacock Flounder

Peacock Flounder
Peacock Flounder

Peacock Flounder is also known as Flowery Flounder. It lives in the shallow waters of the Indo-Pacific region.

Most Peacocks Flounders live in shallow waters where they feed on small fish, crabs, and shrimp.

They sometimes lie over piles of coral or bare rocks.

Peacock Flounders are gray to brown with numerous circles, spots, and light blue dots located on their head and body.

They are masters at camouflaging themselves and use cryptic colorations to avoid detection from prey and predators.

They prefer to crawl on their fins than swim while continually changing color and pattern as per the surroundings.

In a study conducted on the Peacock Flounders to check their color-changing abilities, it was astonishing to see that they matched their surroundings by changing color in just eight seconds.

Scrawled Filefish

Scrawled Filefish
Scrawled Filefish

The Scrawled Filefish is also known as Broom Tail Filefish or Scribbled Leatherjacket.

It inhabits the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific oceans and is found in coral, lagoons, and rocky reefs.

The young ones have a yellowish body color with black spots.

The adult fish have a background body of olive-brown or grey, depending on the surroundings.

In addition, this fish has a blue line and spots that are mixed with black spots.

However, their colors can change rapidly depending on the background, like an Octopus’ skin color changes when moving from one environment to another.

Scrawled Filefish living off the coast of the Virgin Islands can be seen lying motionless on the sand for long periods before rapidly changing their color.

Caribbean Reef Squid

Caribbean Reef Squid
Caribbean Reef Squid

Caribbean Reef Squid lives in tropical oceans.

It’s the only squid species common to inshore reefs in Florida, the Bahamas, and the Caribbean region.

Also, it’s commonly seen among snorkelers in the Caribbean.

The Caribbean Reef Squids love staying near the shore. They have medium brown to light brown, white, and mottle green colors.

They can change colors rapidly, just like Cuttlefish and Octopuses.

However, they don’t change colors to camouflage like many other species.

Instead, the Caribbean Reef Squids use colors and flashing patterns to communicate.



Hogfish lives in waters ranging from the Western Atlantic Ocean to northern South America, including the Gulf of Mexico.

It inhabits the reefs that are full of gorgonians.

It’s called “Hogfish” because it uses its long snout to dig through the sand looking for tiny mollusks; it eats these unsuspecting prey.

The young Hogfish starts as a female and is pale gray, brown, or reddish-brown in color, having a paler underside with no distinct patterns.

It changes its gender and becomes male around three years of age.

Hogfish changes its color to a deep dark band starting from the snout to the first dorsal spine, followed by a lateral black spot behind the pectoral fins.

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Flamboyant Cuttlefish
Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Flamboyant Cuttlefish live in the tropical Indo-Pacific waters off northern Australia, southern New Guinea, and islands of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

Dark Brown is the usual base color of this species.

When disturbed or attacked, they get agitated and turn their coats into various colors, including black, dark brown, light grey, and white, with yellow spots around the body.

The Flamboyant Cuttlefish is active during the day and prefers hunting fish and crustaceans at night.

It uses complex and varied camouflage to hunt its prey.

Mimic Octopus

Mimic Octopus
Mimic Octopus

Mimic Octopus is a species of Octopus found in the Indo-Pacific region.

It changes color from tan to black and white to various striped and spotted patterns to camouflage with its background.

Mimic Octopuses can mimic numerous animals like Lionfish, Sea snakes, Jellyfish, Zebra Sole, and Flatfish.

It uses its mimicking ability to defend itself from predators and approach unsuspecting prey.

For example, it mimics a crab to disguise itself as an apparent mate, only to hunt and eat its deceived suitor.

Giant Cuttlefish

Giant Cuttlefish
Giant Cuttlefish

The Giant Cuttlefish has a considerable mantle length of up to 20 inches, making it look huge.

This Cuttlefish is native to Australia and is known for its bright colors.

It lives on rocky reefs, seagrass beds, sand, and mud seafloor at a depth of 200 meters.

The Giant Cuttlefish can instantly change its color using chromatophores, putting a spectacular display.

This fish uses its unique color-changing capability to camouflage.

Moreover, it displays bold zebra stripes in stunning waves of neon blue and green accents to attract a mate.

Tasselled Anglerfish

Tasselled Anglerfish
Tasselled Anglerfish

Tasselled Anglerfish is endemic to southern Australia.

Its skin has an abundance of thread-like structures resembling red algal fronds.

Its body has a reddish-brown color, with vertical stripes and spots of dark and pale brown.

It hides from its prey by lying motionless at the bottom of the sea.

The first dorsal fin of Tasselled Anglerfish is like a fish hook for catching prey.

The lure has two parts, the illicium (the spine) and the esca (the bait), which resembles a worm, crustaceans, or small fish.

Its dorsal spine has a long, pointed tail. It contains bacterial content that glows to attract potential prey.

Once the prey is near, the Tasselled Anglerfish suddenly opens its mouth wide to suck the victim with great speed.



Lionfish is also called Filefish, Turkey Fish, Tasty Fish, or Butterfly-Cod.

It inhabits the tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region.

Lionfish is a highly venomous fish species whose stings can be painful and fatal.

A Lionfish is maroon or brown in color with white stripes or bands covering its head and body.

The common species of Lionfish have transparent dorsal fins covered with dark spots, which allows them to blend into their surroundings, like corals and gorgonians.

When seen at a distance, the stripes of this fish appear to blur into each other.

This confuses the predators who fail to identify the Lionfish as potential prey.

Peacock Cichlid

Peacock Cichlid
Peacock Cichlid

Peacock Cichlid is a colorful freshwater fish endemic to Lake Malawi in East Africa.

It thrives best in warm waters that contain a slightly basic pH.

Peacock Cichlids can be found in red, blue, and yellow colors.

They have blue color as fry and change to an entirely new color as they grow into adults.

Peacock Cichlids are highly suitable for home aquariums.

Silver Arowana

Silver Arowana
Silver Arowana

Silver Arowana is a freshwater fish that’s also called Monkey Fish or Dragonfish.

It’s a native of the Amazon river basin in South America and is one of the most commonly kept tropical aquarium fish.

A renowned predator among freshwater aquariums, this fish is a prized possession for most hobby aquarists.

However, for beginner hobbyists, these types of fish can be too tricky to handle.

It’s normal for the Silver Arowana to change color. However, it doesn’t change color rapidly or frequently.

Instead, this fish changes its color based on the environment or the background it inhabits.

Silver Arowana is a strong swim­mer that can sometimes be quite aggressive. In an aquarium, it’s expected to live for 15 years.

Main Reasons Why Fish Change Color

Given below are the main reasons why fish change their color.

Lifecycle, Habitat, & Behavior

Two kinds of cells give color to fish, chromatophores and iridophores.

However, other reasons also result in a change of color in fish.

  • Slow color change: Slow color change often occurs as a fish grows from larvae to fry to adult. In addition, some fish species change their colors depending on their habitat. Changes in color during the breeding season are also quite common. Many males of different fish species display mating colorations during specific seasons. However, females don’t show the same degree of color change.
  • Rapid color change: Many fish species can change color rapidly. For example, catching a fish on hook and line will change the fish color due to stress. However, fish can also change color due to aggression. Many deepwater divers have seen fish change their colors rapidly as per their surroundings. For example, they look light or pale when they swim over a light substrate and look dark when swimming over a dark substrate.

Water Quality

Poor water quality is another reason that can change the fish color.

It happens because the poor quality water starts to deteriorate the health of fish.

Poor water quality creates unnecessary stress on the tank inhabitants.

So the fish start to look pale and dull. Continuous stress can also be fatal.

Water plays a vital role as a source of food and oxygen for fish.

Good water quality indicates a well-maintained pH level, temperature, and insignificant toxin levels.

You can achieve water quality by changing the water at regular intervals, maintaining adequate water temperature, and using a good quality filter to eliminate the toxins present in the water.


Fish food will not directly change the fish color, but it’s a reason.

Continuously feeding fish food with inadequate nutrition will affect the health of your aquatic pets and make them look dull.

Many inexperienced aquarists resort to commercial flake foods and pellets to feed their fish.

Although these foods are formulated to provide fish with the necessary nutrients, they’re unlikely to provide complete nutrition.

Fish need a more varied variety of frozen, freeze-dried, and live food.

If your fish like to munch on aquarium plants, you can also add some greens to their feed.


Aquarium lighting is a crucial factor that affects the color of fish by affecting their natural circadian rhythm.

The spectrum emitted by the lights is responsible for the color of the fish.

Light intensity also determines how much blue light is produced. Blue light stimulates the production of melanin in fish skin.

Melanin is responsible for giving the fish its dark color.

If the intensity of the light is low, then the amount of melanin produced get reduced.

Some fish need light to produce specific colors in their skin.

For example, some types of Goldfish and Koi need sunlight to create a pigment in their scales to look bright.

Insufficient light can cause the fish to look faded. On the other hand, too bright lights might harm some fish.

To prevent these problems, try to reduce aquarium lights or provide a hideout for the fish to avoid bright light.


Sickness or diseases are another reason color changes in fish.

However, a sick fish won’t change to a different color. Instead, its color will just get darker.

Such color change is expected in Goldfish.

For example, if your Goldfish has changed its color and turned black, it’s been affected by fin rot.

This is the most common problem observed in Goldfish and Koi.


Fish change their color to disguise and blend themselves in their surroundings.

They do it to either protect themselves from predators or attack unsuspecting prey.

Predatory fish camouflage themselves by changing their body color to match their background.

They do this by mixing up their body color with the surrounding substrate.

The fish then wait patiently till an unsuspecting prey approaches them. Then, they attack and devour their prey in a flash.

Some fish blend themselves in their background substrate. They do it to confuse the predator and ward off any attack.

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