16 of the World's Most Psychedelic Creatures

Lilac-breasted Roller (Coracias caudatus)
Andrew Sproule / Getty Images

From surreal sea slugs to rainbow birds, these candy-colored critters show off Mother Nature's wild side. Among the legions of somber-colored animals that have evolved to blend in with their environments, there are some more fanciful colored animals. Some still blend in, it's just that they have a more vibrant habitat. Others are exuberantly tinted to win a mate or warn off predators. Regardless of the why behind their coloring, all of these creatures are beautiful to behold.

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Lilac-Breasted Roller

Brightly colored lilac-breasted roller bird

Stuart Richards / Flickr / CC by ND 2.0

First up, the lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus) pictured above. This stunning crow-sized beauty hails from Africa, where it is the national bird of both Kenya and Botswana. Unlike many bird species, both male and female birds sport the plumage consisting of a whopping eight different colors.

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Peacock Spider

Peacock Spider

Paul Harrison / Getty Images

Dancing peacock spiders seem ready for a night out at a club. They comprise a family of spiders with exuberant colors and patterns, and female-wooing dance moves. This coastal peacock spider (Maratus speciosus) is unusual for his clown face and asymmetric and staccato legwork. Watch him bust some moves:

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Nudibranch

Chromodoris nudibranch with rainbow background
Andrew Marriott / Getty Images

Take one part Pokémon and add two parts Dr. Seuss, and you have the nudibranch. This one is a delightful Chromodoris nudibranch – a type of sea slug that could hardly be more beautiful. With all of that color and frills, this species is typical to many of the other 3,000+ known nudibranch species. They are some of the most brightly colored animals on the planet.

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Mandarin Fish

Mandarin Fish

Luc Viatour / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

Native to the Western Pacific ranging roughly from the Ryukyu Islands south to Australia, the scientific name for the mandarin fish is Synchiropus splendidus – because obviously, these colorful cuties put the splendid in S. splendidus. Their coloring is created through cellular pigment unlike any other vertebrate aside from their cousin known as the picturesque dragonet. Instead of scales, mandarin fish are coated with a bitter slime. Their bright colors warn predators away from this less than tasty snack.

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Saddleback Caterpillar

Saddleback Caterpillar

Gerald J. Lenhard / Louisiana State University / CC by 3.0 

This saddleback caterpillar (Acharia stimulea) might look like a new friend with colorful green markings and a marking looking like a tiny purple-brown saddle. If you come across one in its eastern North American habitat, beware. Don't let those charming pompoms fool you; like most of the rest of the body, the pompoms bear urticating hairs that secrete irritating venom. The painful sting can rival a bee sting.

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Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Red eyed tree frog sitting on leaf

Brandon Alms / Shutterstock

Unlike most other brightly colored tree frogs, red-eyed tree frogs (Agalychnis callidryas) are not venomous – their bright markings play into the defense mechanism known as startle coloration. When disturbed, they open their giant red eyes and flash their huge orange feet (like frog jazz hands), which works to startle a predator just long enough for the frog to beat a hasty retreat.

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Rainbow Lorikeet

colorful rainbow lorikeet feeding on flowers

 Andrew Mercer / Wikimedia Commons / CC by SA 4.0

Birds' ability to escape predators makes them a bit less dependent on complicated camouflage, which means they can flaunt their colors, which they do with abandon. Even backyard visitors like jays and cardinals display vibrant colors, all in an effort to win a mate. In more tropical climes, the birds can be downright garish – in the best way – like this green-naped lorikeet (Trichoglossus haematodus) a sub-species of rainbow lorikeet that can be found in Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, New Zealand, and New Caledonia.

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Mandrill

Mandrill Mandrillus sphinx Rainforest Species. Endangered. Camaroon and Gabon. Male on all fours, side view. -

Martin Harvey / Getty Images

While most of the planet's colorful creatures don't belong to the furry set, the mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) makes the grade for his showy frippery. While these primates from the Old World monkey family look like baboons, they are more closely related to mangabeys. They are the largest monkeys, and clearly the most colorful. As Charles Darwin wrote in "The Descent of Man": "No other member in the whole class of mammals is colored in so extraordinary a manner as the adult male mandrills."

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Blue Ringed Octopus

octopi with bright blue rings

Jens Petersen / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Look at this gorgeous creature, Hapalochlaena lunulata, with a pattern worthy of a mod couture textile. But if you happen to come across one along the beaches of Australia, best move along. Although just the length of a pencil, the blue-ringed octopus is one of the world's most venomous animals. A single 25-gram octopus – not quite the weight of a piece of bread – has enough deadly tetrodotoxin to suffocate 10 men, reports Slate. Yikes. Nothing to see here, folks, move along.

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Mantis Shrimp

green mantis shrimp

Jung Hsuan / Shutterstock

And in keeping with the theme of really pretty tiny little creature that happen to be superlatively tough, we have the mantis shrimp. They are ornery, they smash things, ounce for ounce they throw the quickest punches in the animal world. “They have a hammer, and everything in the world looks like a nail,” says one biologist. And in fact, some of the larger ones have been known to break through aquarium glass with a single strike ... a cautionary tale if there ever was one.

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Nicobar Pigeon

rainbow colored nicobar pigeon

Steve Wilson / Flickr / CC by 2.0

While the the Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica) may not come in the snow-cone colors of some of its avian brethren, it makes up for it in its subtle rainbow elegance. These large, mainly ground-dwelling birds have few natural predators (aside from humans, who are slowly decimating them) and because of their isolation on small islands, they have been able to develop their incredible plumage. Let's just hope we don't push them the way of the dodo – of which they are the closest living relative.

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Panther Chameleon

chameleon on branch

kuhnmi / Flickr / CC by 2.0

Chameleons are known as masters of disguise, and the long-held belief is that they change colors to blend in with their surroundings. But research from UC Berkeley puts a spin on that theory, concluding that they change color in concert with their moods. Chameleons change color through flexing and relaxing their skin, which causes tiny crystals to rearrange and shift their appearance.

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Blue Morpho

blue morpho butterfly

 Izzy LeCours  / Flickr / CC by 2.0

The wings of the blue morpho (Morpho peleides) may seem to be designed by an illusionist. While they are a stunning blue on top, the undersides are a dullish brown with multiple eyespots that work to camouflage this giant beauty when its wings are closed. When in flight, the alternating flashes of blue and brown make it seem that the butterfly is appearing and disappearing. Now you see it, now you don't.

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Nudibranch

Colorful nudibranch
joebelanger / Getty Images

Another nudibranch sea slug sporting bright colors. This Spanish Shawl nudibranch's bright color and waving frills allow it to blend right in with their favorite food: sea anemones. The orange color also announces to predators that they aren't a tasty snack.

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Green-Crowned Woodnymph

iridescent green and purple green-crowned woodnymph sitting on branch, hummingbird from tropical forest,Colombia,bird perching,tiny beautiful bird resting on flower in garden,clear background,nature,wildlife, exotic adventure
Jiri Hrebicek / Getty Images

This green-crowned woodnymph (Thalurania colombica fannyi) shows off his color-shifting iridescence. While the striking coloring might catch your eye in a photo, in its native habitat of humid South American forests, they blend right in with the tropical plants and flowers. Male green-crowned woodnymphs are slightly more colorful with violet-blue shoulders and green throats. Females have off-white throats and markings on the tail.

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Blue Poison Dart Frog

Blue poison dart frog with black spots sitting on rock
Katherine Roberts / Getty Images

The blue poison dart frog (Dendrobates tinctorius 'Azureus') got its name from the use of their toxins to make poison darts. The blue coloring advertises to predators that it isn't safe to eat. The spot pattern on the frog is unique to each individual. The blue frogs don't hold the title as most poisonous. That distinction belongs to the golden poison dart frog, which has enough venom to kill 10 grown men.