“I specialize in the process of hypercamouflage in marine animals.”

“Hypercamouflage? How is that different from the normal kind?”

“Well, you could learn about that by signing up for my class,” she smirked. “But I don’t mind talking to students about my favorite subject. Hypercamouflage is a term for any process by which an animal becomes so well concealed that it is physically indistinguishable from its surroundings. When achieved, no known scientific equipment or sensory organ is able to detect the creature’s presence. It is as though they no longer exist.”

“But they do exist?”

“Probably, though, as you might imagine, there isn’t much data to work with. As Dr. Poplar puts it, ‘the most well-camouflaged lifeforms on this planet that they will never be discovered by man.’ There’s just no way for us to know what it is exactly that we’re dealing with; we have to work under the assumption that there’s always something else hiding from us. Because of this, most of the work that exists on hypercamouflage is highly speculative, and much of the subject matter isn’t currently scientifically testable.”

“What kind of animal does this?”

“A popular example is the blackletter starfish, which, when threatened, appears to kick up a cloud of sand to allow it escape from potential predators. Biologists spent decades trying to capture a live specimen, failing at every sighting, until one clever researcher finally realized what was really going on: the echinoderm was actually becoming this cloud of sand. According to their findings, its entire body would dissolve into a mixture of particles similar in composition to the ocean floor, then disperse with the surrounding current. Of course, such clouds of sand have never been observed recongealing into a starfish afterwards, so this hasn’t been established as fact. Occam’s razor still says that we’re just bad at catching them.”

“Wait, they never come back together? So, they die?”

“Well, that’s where researchers like me come in. We find it highly unlikely that the starfish would entirely obliterate itself as a means of self-defense- it just doesn’t make any sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Given the ability of starfish to regenerate lost body parts, we suspect that at least one of these grains of sand contains enough of the required genetic material to grow into a complete replica of the original starfish. As this recovery tends to take echinoderms anywhere from six months to a year, however, it’s difficult to monitor any specimen long enough to prove our hypothesis.”

The student thought for a moment. “So, let me get this straight. When an animal dies, its flesh decays until nothing but bones remain, and even those are eventually ground into earth. The whole body becomes part of its surroundings. Sure, it takes place over a longer time scale, but it doesn’t sound all that different from what your starfish does. Given that, how do you differentiate hypercamouflage from death?”

The professor raised an eyebrow. “Who ever said that I do?”

The mirror whale exhibits a form of hypercamouflage.

Cuttlefish exhibit something much stranger than hypercamouflage.

Hypercamouflage also has applications in robotics.