How do I protect myself? Let me count the ways…

As a nature guide, I am constantly chasing the tides to show the wonderful array of life on our shores at low tides to my participants. No matter how many times I head out for intertidal walks (at ungodly hours, one might add), one thing that always amazes me is the plethora of techniques used by animals to defend themselves.

Passive camouflage 

Sea cucumber.jpg
One of my favourite marine animals is the garlic bread sea cucumber which uses the colours on its body to blend into the sandy shores on which it is found.
Hairy crab
Can you spot the crab with lots of hair on its back? The hairy crab is so-called due to the presence of all the hairs on its body which are used to trap sediments. These hairs allow the crab to blend into the surroundings and also serve to break up its outline.

However, nothing compares to the stonefish. The fins on top of the animal’s body have sharp spines which are connected to venom sacs. When an unwary individual steps on this animal, the spines become erect, injecting venom into the body of the offender. One of my colleagues, who has had the unpleasant experience of stepping on this before, described it as a “burning, searing kind of pain that makes you wish you were dead.” #truestory

The body of the stonefish looks so much like that of an eroded piece of rock that it is often very easy to miss this animal.
One way I try to look out for the stonefish is by looking out for a piece of rock which looks like it is frowning. I like to think of it as a gentle reminder from the animal that if you were to step on it, you will be frowning for a fair bit of time too!

Active camouflage

In contrast, some animals use this mechanism called active camouflage. An excellent example would be octopuses, which can change the colours and the texture of their skin to blend into the surroundings as they move from one place to another.


Besides this, when in a hurry, octopuses can also a) use jet-propulsion to make a quick escape, b) release a cloud of ink, which will act as a smoke screen, giving them time to escape, and c) even squeeze into very small or tight spaces, as they lack shells. Is it any wonder why these amazing creatures are often referred to as the masters of camouflage?

Warning colouration

Some protect themselves by blending in. Others, by standing out. Warning colours are bright colours found on the bodies of organisms which serve as an indication to potential predators of their toxicity. The message here is “Hey! Don’t eat me, I am poisonous!”

Red egg crab
Here, the red egg crab uses the bright colours, which are naturally found on its body to warn predators of its unpalatability. This is one of the more poisonous crabs found on Singapore’s shores!
Another example is the nudibranch. Many nudibranchs are poisonous or taste bad, and they use the bright colours or striking patterns found on their bodies to advertise these to potential predators.

Stinging tentacles       

That size is no indication of potential to cause damage is something that comes to mind whenever I chance upon a jellyfish. These guys have stinging tentacles that can be used to cause a great deal of pain to unwary swimmers.

Here, we have an upside-down jellyfish, with the stinging tentacles facing upwards. Thankfully, the genus that can kill humans is not found locally.

Regardless of the number of times I see these organisms, I never cease to be amazed by the diversity of techniques deployed to protect oneself in nature. Each intertidal walk thus remains a wonderful journey of discovery.

Worth waking up at ungodly hours for? I certainly think so!

P.S. All the photos featured here were taken by me in Singapore.


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