Cuttlefish, squid and octopus have always been famous for their ability to camouflage themselves in their environment. They are able to instantly change the color and texture of their skin to blend into the underwater environment. However, new research shows that cuttlefish camouflage is much more complex and adaptive than previously thought.
Researchers from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) and the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research conducted a detailed study of the cuttlefish’s camouflage mechanisms. They found that cuttlefish use millions of chromatophore skin cells to create complex patterns. Each cell is enclosed in a muscular network and is controlled by brain neurons.
The muscles contract and relax to expand or conceal the pigment cell, and together they create the cuttlefish’s skin patterns. It used to be thought that cuttlefish use only a few components of the pattern for camouflage, but new results show that their camouflage is much more complex and adaptive.
To conduct the study, scientists used an ultra-high-resolution camera to zoom in on the cuttlefish’s skin. They recorded the expansion and contraction of tens and hundreds of thousands of chromatophores in real time. They then used a supercomputer to process the data and applied a neural network to analyze various characteristics of the images.
The researchers also found that cuttlefish camouflage adapts in such a way that the human eye cannot see differences in the patterns on the skin. Even when the same cuttlefish encountered the same background several times, the patterns on its skin differed slightly.
How cuttlefish get feedback on their camouflage and how they use this information to adjust their camouflage patterns remains a mystery. However, these results open up new possibilities for studying and understanding camouflage mechanisms in the natural world.