Wildlife

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 “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?

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.
  • Liz

    Glass Catfish (Kryptopterus bicirrhis) & Amano Shrimp (Caridina multidentata) are see-through 🙂 .

  • J mosh

    These are the weirdest cratures ever!

  • Adamu Emmanuel

    its wonderful to see all this things being discovered; it makes me feel the yet great amount of unmasked wonders of God in the universe.

  • Elise

    These creatures are so beautiful and amazing. Sadly, its not surprising they’re endangered 🙁 Any tips for us to help these lil creatures? 🙁

  • Waew

    They are beautiful pictures. I feel proud pictures.

  • Brenda Kim

    Surely appreciate that for showing those beautiful lives everyday!

    Adore the photographers who do take these wonderful things!

    All the creatures are gift, now I know!
    Thanks!

  • CharlesTheMonkey

    Nature’s B L I N G !

  • Anthony G. Nderitu

    Beautiful creatures! Wish all we human beings were as transparent as these creatures in our dealings with one another!

  • Robert viggers

    Nice story. You could add to the list the glass spiders that live in Zimbabwe at the airport in Harare. These spiders are circular and are about 2 to 3 inches across . They appear to be glass as they are about 90percent clear . I don’t really know if they are spiders. Also on the list could be the small jellyfish in puget sound . They are circular and are about 2 to 3 inches across . They are about 95percent clear .

  • Victoria

    Thank you so much and the photographers. These are wonderful pictures on our glorious inhabitants on earth.

  • Donny

    Number 6 is a poliwag

  • Hitesh

    Thanks for posting these wonderful creatures.

  • Jose Hauer

    Look this transparent butterfly I caught.
    There is a series of photos posted here:
    http://www.photofolia.net/frame/14527/transparent-wings/
    Best,
    Zeca

  • shaherbano shaikh

    God has made so many wonderful things that we still learning about them

  • Holly Rankin

    I’ve seen transparent slugs!

  • kara

    young bedbug hatchlings are transparent!

  • Drew

    great species! two thumbs up for the discoverers…
    this only shows that the exploration on the wonders of creatures on earth has not yet come to an extent, there are more discoveries to do…

  • anu

    I like that Sea Angel. How beautiful our earth is…

  • eudel thomas

    thank you for your dedication to bringing the these creature to our attention.

  • Anne
  • knotz roperos

    Thank GOD for His wonderful creatures:-) 🙂 🙂 it shows the truthfulness of His Words that all things would be revealed even our innermost beings….we will breathe and live even of various mystical forms becaue He is the giver of life…thank God also for the photographers who were used by Him as witnesses of these elluding creatures of transparency and translucency!!!!!:-) 🙂 🙂

  • Danny

    I’ve seen those transparent tadpoles in china like 3-4 years ago. 🙂

  • SERGIO

    simple y sencillamente sorprendente la naturaleza sigue siendo maravillosa, caprichosa y en ocasones mortal. gracias por tan excelentes imagenes

  • flor cabral

    so amazing what nature has for us.

  • EGIDIO tejerina

    bery good, muy bueno

  • behnam

    بسیار زیباست

  • Jo

    Salps – Thalias in the Tunicate family
    For a few in California, see Class Thaladiacea (Salps) on http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/Intertidal.htm#Tunicates

  • Elliw

    Ferry interesting. I have learnt a lot from this page

  • jugoslav

    so many kinds of jellyfish and you named none! but it is important to put on the list tadpoles…where is your brain, translucent maybe?

  • Jasmin

    Great list!! Except for the misinformation on the Barton springs salamander. They’re found in Slovenia caves as well, they call them human fish.

  • Clara

    You forgot the the translucent butterfly (greta oto) love the animals! 🙂

  • Seb

    Nice work by the Nat Geo team. You can also add the skeleton shrimp

  • Erick W. Miller

    I saw a transparent salamander in Dover, Tennessee. It was the size of a Newt and light green. It was on Everett Watson Hill south of Dover.

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