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DescriptionHippolyte varians is a small of prawn up to 3.2 cm in length but usually less. The colour is variable (as its common name suggests) from red, brown, green, flecked reddish-brown or almost transparent with red and yellow blotches depending on its habitat. This species rostrum is straight or slightly upturned at the tip, which is undivided. The rostrum is nearly as long as the carapace bearing a single tooth on its upper surface. There is a spine or tooth just above, and two spines below each eye. Hippolyte varians may also posses tufts of setae on the upper carapace and abdominal segments (pleonites). The first pair of thoracic limbs (pereiopods) are distinctly shorter than the other 4 pairs. The telson of this species has two pairs of lateral spines.The chameleon prawn uses its variable colouration as camouflage during the day, but all turn a transparent bluish-green at night independent of habitat (Moen & Svensen, 2004). This species breeds throughout the year with increased intensity during the summer months. Hippolyte varians may be infected by the bopyrid isopod Bopyrina ocellata (Smaldon, 1993).
The tufts of setae present on some individuals of Hippolyte varians led Gosse (1853) to classify it as a differenent species; Hippolyte fascigera. However, this was later invalidated by Chassard-Bouchard (Smaldon, 1993).