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Pictures: Take a Look Through Nature’s Most Transparent Animals

A team of researchers recently announced the discovery of Cyanogaster noctivaga, a brand new species of transparent fish that lives deep in the Amazon. Indeed, with its transparent skin and dazzling blue belly, the discovery constitutes an entirely new genus and, despite being very hard to see, has been given an eye-catching name that means...

A team of researchers recently announced the discovery of Cyanogaster noctivaga, a brand new species of transparent fish that lives deep in the Amazon. Indeed, with its transparent skin and dazzling blue belly, the discovery constitutes an entirely new genus and, despite being very hard to see, has been given an eye-catching name that means “blue-bellied night wanderer.”

This unique organism got us thinking about what other creatures are transparent or translucent, so we put together this list.

1. Transparent Amazonian Fish

Cyanogaster translucent fish
Cyanogaster, a recently discovered translucent fish. Photograph courtesy Natural History Museum

It’s speculated that the combination of its nearly invisible nature and nocturnal ways may be the reason why Cyanogaster noctivaga wasn’t discovered until now.  The fish is also tiny, measuring an estimated maximum of 0.7 inches (17 millimeters) long and makes its home in the notoriously murky Rio Negro, which may have contributed to its elusiveness.

Being that hard to see confers obvious survival benefits as a form of camouflage, so it’s not surprising that when it comes to transparency it *ahem* clearly isn’t alone.

(See Photos of a Fish With a Transparent Head)

2. Golden Tortoise Beetle

Translucent Golden tortoise beetle
Golden tortoise beetles can shine metallic gold or change color to red. Photograph by George Grall, National Geographic

The golden tortoise beetle (Charidotella sexpunctata) is high in the running for the tiniest and most beguiling of nature’s translucent creatures. At 0.2 to 0.3 inches (5 to 8 millimeters) long it resembles a metallic ladybug and is something of a chameleon, shifting in color from gold to a reddish bronze throughout the year.

Also known as the “goldbug,” the lovely leaf-eater manages this transformation by reflecting light through liquid stored below a transparent outer cuticle.

3. Glass Frogs

Translucent glass frog Hyalinobatrachium pellucidum
The translucent glass frog Hyalinobatrachium pellucidum. Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic

Hyalinobatrachium pellucidum, also known as the “glass frog,” is native to the cloud forests and rivers of Ecuador. Hyalinobatrachium pellucidum’s pale green skin is translucent to the point that the majority of its vital organs are clearly visible. Unfortunately, the species is endangered due to continuing habitat destruction.

4. Sea Angels

A sea butterflyfish swims in waters off Enderbury Island. Photograph by Brian Skerry, National Geographic
A sea butterflyfish swims in waters off Enderbury Island. Photograph by Brian Skerry, National Geographic

Sea angels are mollusks native to the Arctic Ocean whose scientific name Gymnosomata is Greek for “naked body” and whose appearance is both ghostly and beautiful (see video below). Sea angels are hermaphroditic and feed on another, possibly related, species of “winged” mollusk known as the sea butterfly (Thecosomata). Since they appear to flutter through the water on tiny translucent wings it’s easy to see how sea angels got their common name, although they also have pointy protrusions that resemble horns…

5. Barton Springs Salamander

An endangered Barton Springs salamander, Eurycea sosorum.
An endangered Barton Springs salamander, Eurycea sosorum. Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic

The Barton Springs salamander (Eurycea sosorum) is a small lungless salamander unique to Barton Springs, a group of natural springs in Austin, Texas. Its speckled, reddish-brown skin is translucent and eggs or even the contents of the salamander’s last meal are often visible.

Since the Barton Springs salamander is found nowhere else in the world and relies on fresh, unpolluted spring water it’s been listed as an endangered species since 1997.

While for many animals translucency is a way of life, some creatures exhibit it only in certain phases… 

6. Translucent Tadpoles

Tadpoles' coiled intestines are revealed by transparent skin.
Note the tadpoles’ coiled intestines. Photograph by Paul A. Zahl, National Geographic

These Costa Rican tadpoles have see-through skin that reveals neatly coiled intestines.

7. Larval Squid

A transparent larval squid. Photograph by David Liittschwager, National Geographic

This larval squid shows off translucency and iridescence in equal measure.

8. Monarch Butterfly Pupa

Translucent Monarch Butterfly Pupa
A translucent monarch butterfly pupa. Photograph by Paul A. Zahl, National Geographic

This monarch butterfly, seen at a tender age, offers a preview of its famous brilliant orange hue peeking out from the transparent coating of its pupa.

 What are some transparent creatures we’ve left out? Have you seen (through) any other examples?

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Meet the Author

Stefan Sirucek
Stefan Sirucek is a writer and journalist who reports from both sides of the Atlantic. He's written for the Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @sirstefan.