AUG 10, 2018 3:00 AM PDT

Why Cuttlefish are Called Chameleons of the Sea

WRITTEN BY: Amanda Kahl

Did you know that cuttlefish can change color, texture, and shape? Did you know they contain a bone called the cuttlebone? There is a reason why they are called the chameleons of the sea.  The video below explains how cuttlefish are such masters of disguise. 

Cuttlefish is one creature that scientist are still trying to figure out. Biologists at the University of Cambridge and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusets, have discovered how cuttlefish can match their texture to their surrounding environment. Using little nodules called papillae, they can lock hundreds of tiny structures under their skin into a position. They do this by extending and retracting these papillae using their muscles. Locking the papillae into a position requires the cuttlefish to dose them with certain neurotransmitters, once they are locked, no energy is used to keep up the texture. 

Cephalopods, the class cuttlefish belong to, are able to camouflage using chromatophores in their skin. Author of the book, 'The Design in Nature', Yahya Harun explains how cuttlefish can rapidly change color. "Sacs of red, yellow or brown pigment in the skin made visible or invisible by muscles around their circumference. These muscles are under the direct control of neurons in the motor centres of the brain, which is why they can blend into the background so quickly." Not only can they change color, they can also change how they reflect light. They contain reflecting plates called leucophores and iridophores that sit underneath the chromatophores. "Leucophores reflect light across a wide range of wavelengths so can reflect whatever light is available at the time-white light in shallow waters and blue light at depth. Iridophores combine platelets of a protein called reflectin with layers of cytoplasm to produce iridescent reflections...," explains Harun. 

How do cuttlefish know which colors and patterns are around them? Cephalopods have very well-developed eyes, this allows them to detect both the color and intensity of light. The pupils of the cuttlefish are interesting because they are shaped like a small, thin 'W'. This allows them to see in a chromatic blur. Even though they are considered to have well-developed eyes, they are actually color blind. They are able to figure out a color based on its wavelength a when it blurs. 

Another characteristic that makes this creature so unique is its cuttlebone. This bone is a porous internal shell that helps the cephalopod control its buoyancy. It has two chambers, a gas-filled forward chamber, and a water-filled rear chamber. This allows the animal control of its positioning and depth in the water. 

All of these interesting features allow the cuttlefish to survive. The cuttlefish has the ability to blend into a coral reef, a rock, gravel, sand, plants, and more. It can change its color, texture, pattern, and buoyancy to either escape a predator or catch its prey. 

Sources: Ask NatureScience MagThe New York Times

About the Author
  • Amanda has a Bachelor's in Biological Sciences from the University of Cincinnati. She has a passion for animals, conservation, and environmental sciences. Through her career in science and research, she is able to develop her passion and hopes to pass on to others the joy of learning about science.
You May Also Like
JUL 16, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Turbulence: A Treat for Both Eyes and Minds
JUL 16, 2020
Turbulence: A Treat for Both Eyes and Minds
What do the air inside your lung, the tap water in pipes, the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, and the hurricane over the Atla ...
JUL 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Scientists Reveal the Biggest-Ever 3D Map of the Universe
JUL 26, 2020
Scientists Reveal the Biggest-Ever 3D Map of the Universe
After five years of research, an international team over 100 astrophysicists from around 30 institutions worldwide has r ...
AUG 18, 2020
Space & Astronomy
First Visitor from Another Solar System Remains Unknown
AUG 18, 2020
First Visitor from Another Solar System Remains Unknown
An object hurtling through our solar system known as 'Oumuamua' is our first visitor from another solar sys ...
AUG 26, 2020
Space & Astronomy
Planet-wide Rainstorms Created Lakes on Ancient Mars
AUG 26, 2020
Planet-wide Rainstorms Created Lakes on Ancient Mars
Researchers from the University of Texas have found that a huge amount of liquid water likely rained down from the skies ...
SEP 24, 2020
Plants & Animals
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Sets New Diving Record
SEP 24, 2020
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Sets New Diving Record
Marine mammals are uniquely adapted to dive to incredible depths. New research from Duke University Marine Laboratory do ...
NOV 19, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Unlocking the Secret of a Tasty Cold Drink
NOV 19, 2020
Unlocking the Secret of a Tasty Cold Drink
Sour beer isn't for everyone: its unique taste of acidity and tartness could excite some but turn off others.  ...
Loading Comments...