Sophisticated photonic systems appeared and began evolving in animals at least 450 million years ago. Over this timespan, these living systems have increased in physical subtlety and elegance, arriving at surprising, technologically novel solutions for complex problems in photonics and self-assembly such as underwater imaging, camouflage, and radiative transfer in dense media. Understanding these phenomena requires the integration of data from physical scales ranging from the environment to protein self-assembly. This talk will discuss the discoveries of the mechanisms of self-assembly of GRIN lenses in animals; self-assembling structural camouflage in squids; and the photonic enhancement of radiative transfer in solar-powered clams. All of these systems hold promise for translation to novel technologies.