16 of the World's Most Psychedelic Creatures

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 somber-colored environments, there are a number of more fanciful colored animals. Some are still meant to blend in, it's just that they have a more vibrant habitat. Some are exuberantly tinted to win over the ladies. While others are so conspicuously colored that they seem to be screaming "Here I am!" which might not appear very wise for defenseless things like the bite-sized protein nugget known as a caterpillar or a sea slug. The more brightly colored some of these little guys are, the more poisonous they are to potential predators – their Crayola-colors are actually loud warnings saying, "watch it, buster, you'll be sorry." But regardless of the why behind the "wow" ... all of these creatures are beautiful to behold, as you will see on the following pages.

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Lilac-Breasted Roller

Brightly colored lilac-breasted roller bird

credit: 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. Rightly so!

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Peacock Spider

Peacock Spider
Coastal peacock spider (Maratus speciosus).

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 – but quite frankly, they are all unusual! Watch him bust some moves:

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Chromodoris nudibranch with rainbow background
Andrew Marriott / Getty Images

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

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Mandarin Fish

Mandarin Fish

credit: Luc Viatour / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

Calling Emilio Pucci! 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 insanely colorful cuties put the splendid in S. splendidus.

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Saddleback Caterpillar

Saddleback Caterpillar

credit: Gerald J. LenhardLouisiana State University / CC by 3.0 

Looking more like the love child of a stuffed animal and a Chinese New Year Dragon, the exotic-looking saddleback caterpillar (Acharia stimulea) is actually native to eastern North America. If you come across one, 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 ... sneaky little thing. But cute.

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Red-Eyed Tree Frog

Red eyed tree frog sitting on leaf

credit: 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 hoppy 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 over the hearts of the she-birds. In more exotic 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. If only human males were so colorful, though I guess that's what red Corvettes are for.

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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 coloured in so extraordinary a manner as the adult male mandrills."

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Blue Ringed Octopus

octopi with bright blue rings

credit: 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

credit: 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

credit: 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

credit: kuhnmi / Flickr / CC by 2.0

Chameleons are known as masters of disguise, the Peter Sellers of the lizard world – and the long held belief is that they change colors to blend in with their surroundings. But new research from UC Berkeley puts a woo-woo spin on that theory, concluding that they actually change color in concert with their moods. As Maggie writes in Chameleons actually don’t change color to camouflage themselves: "If you want to pick a clothing metaphor, it’s really more like a mood ring and less like a fatigue jacket."

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Blue Morpho

blue morpho butterfly

credit: Izzy LeCours / Flickr / CC by 2.0

The wings of the blue morpho (Morpho peleides) were clearly designed by an illusionist. While they are a stunning blue on top, the undersides are a dullish brown with multiple eyespots which 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 on Sea Floor
DogsOut / Getty Images

Another nudibranch sea slug, because their crazy colors serve as such a great illustration of the 'ol "warning, warning, do not eat" maxim. We humans see things this color and are promised a mouthful of sugar and synthetic food coloring, but sea predators know better. And in fact, this guy comes complete with a sacrificial tail that contains toxins and can be lost should a hungry hunter comes along.

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Green-Crowned Brilliant Hummingbird

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

Hummingbirds have such moxie! Not only are they the smallest of birds, but they have mad flying skills: they can fly right, left, up, down, backward, and even upside down. Plus, they can hover. (They're really fairies, right?) PLUS, those colors! This green-crowned woodnymph (Thalurania colombica fannyi) shows off his color-shifting iridescence, which is all part of the ploy to find a mate.

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Blue Poison Dart Frog

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

It's probably not too hard to figure out how the blue poison dart frog (Dendrobates tinctorius 'Azureus') got its name. It's blue; it's toxins were used to make poison darts, thus, the blue poison dart frog. Brilliant, right? The blue guys are not the most poisonous of all poison dart frogs – the family of which lives in Central and South America – that distinction belongs to the golden poison dart frog, which has enough venom to kill 10 grown men.