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The Best Underwater Pranksters

stonefish.jpg
Stonefish Underwater Prankster © NOAA

Amidst all the beauty and serenity in our ocean, people often forget the level of cunning and stealth that exists beneath the waves. The pursuit of survival breeds some of the sneakiest critters and talented pranksters in our world. So in honor of this April Fool’s Day, we’ve compiled a list of the ocean’s ultimate pranksters—from which you might even learn a thing or two when it comes to making the most of this famed holiday.

From playing dead to faux body parts and camouflage, here are some of our ocean’s finest:

Master of Surprise: The Reef Stonefish

If you took Ashton Kutcher, and put him under the waves, you’d have the stonefish.

This underwater Punk’d star is a master of camouflage. Stonefish lurk among coral and rocky reefs, so perfectly camouflaged with their surrounding habitats that often predator and prey alike don’t recognize their presence. They remain hidden, sometimes for hours at a time, until an unsuspecting prey swims by in close proximity. Without warning, the stonefish will strike—very much like Ashton Kutcher in a bad episode of MTV’s Punk’d—using their giant mouths and powerful jaws to suck in and gobble their prey whole.

It’s fortunate that stonefish are so talented, as they rely on the element of surprise to upkeep their carnivorous diet. Oh, and they also happen to be the most venomous fish in the world. So…don’t try sneaking up behind this one.

Master of Disguise: The Mimic Octopus

The mimic octopus is revered for their ability to transform into another ocean animal in a moment’s notice.

Footage of these incredible creatures went viral a few years back: An octopus developing black and white stripped patterns, flaring its body into a replica of venomous spines—a lionfish. Then, suddenly flatting its core to hover and undulate along the ocean floor—a flatfish! Unlike other cephalopods, octopuses don’t have rigid skeletal elements, allowing an atypical amount of flexibility.

Depending on their appraisal of any situation, the mimic octopus can impersonate a host of underwater animals including lionfish, crabs, brittle stars and venomous sea snakes. While some imitations are to ward off predators, other disguises are used to advance on prey. For example, by impersonating a crab’s potential mate, it can confuse the poor crab into becoming dinner.

Livingstone’s Cichlids (Aka your dog isn’t the only one who can play dead)

Like the stonefish, Livingstone’s cichlids are the ambush predators of freshwater. However, instead of lying low and hidden like a stonefish, these fish take it six-feet lower (so to speak). They remain limp and immobile on the lake floor. In a perfect mockery of a dead fish, they await the approach of unsuspecting prey and lunge suddenly when within range.  For this, they’ve even earned the local name of Kolingono, or “sleeper”.

Now… rollover?

Cross-Dressing Cuttlefish

Vying for female mates can be tough for a small cuttlefish. Fortunately, some have developed a sneaky way to use size to their advantage. By tucking in their tentacles and changing colors, a male cuttlefish can disguise himself as a female to sneak right by the competition. While the larger male assumes he’s in luck with two females, the smaller male can mate with the female right under his nose. And the best part? The female’s eggs will now contain a mixture of sperm from both fathers, ensuring more genetic variation for her offspring.

We have a lot to learn from ocean animals—especially, apparently, when it comes to disguise, ambush and tactic. Rumor has it the U.S. military is studying the cuttlefish in hopes of improving their camouflage techniques, meanwhile it’s taken me almost twenty-two years to master eye shadow.

Regardless of your level on the prankster scale, have a wonderful April Fool’s and be safe out there!

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