River cooter, Pseudemys concinna, 4 inches across. Photograph by David Liittschwager

Many of nature’s creatures could put on their own version of a Milan fashion show. With their eye-catching coats of fuzzy algae, fluttery tiered layers, star patterns, and delicate crimson strands, they would inspire even the most particular designer.


The remarkable coat of algae on this river cooter turtle, one of the animals in One Cubic Foot, isn’t an original. Summer in the Tennessee River is “good growing season,” says photographer David Liittschwager. River turtles commonly have algae on their shells then, explains Don Hubbs of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, because they “spend a lot of time both feeding in the river and then basking on logs and onshore.” Their shells provide an ideal place for algae to attach and grow.

Sacoglossan sea slug, Cyerce nigricans, 0.6 inches long. Photograph by David Liittschwager

The Sacoglossan sea slug stands out in the tropical waters of French Polynesia with its striking patterned frills—haute couture among marine animals. “This extraordinary little creature came swimming through the cube at night,” Liittschwager says. “It was beautiful.” Like other decorated slugs, its bright colors are in fact a warning: When the slug is disturbed, it produces distasteful, sometimes toxic, chemicals as a defense.

Sea star, Meridiastra rapa, 0.55 inches across. Photograph by David Liittschwager

The sunrise hues of a sea star also make an impression in French Polynesian waters. The bold colors may also serve to scare away predators or to act as camouflage—a popular design.

Wood sorrel, Oxalis polyphylla, 1.5 inches across. Photograph by David Liittschwager

Wood sorrel, with its delicate, lacy red leaves, thrives across Table Mountain Park in South Africa. A geophyte, the plant has an underground storage organ that holds water and nutrients. As a result, its leaves—like fashion—are short-lived. Of course there’s always next season.