The skin of cuttlefish changes color rapidly using elastic pigment sacs called chromatophores, in order to evade predators.

Cephalopods such as cuttlefish often use use adaptive camouflage to blend in with their surroundings. They are able to match colors and surface textures of their surrounding environments by adjusting the and iridescence of their skin.

On the skin surface, chromatophores (tiny sacs filled with red, yellow, or brown pigment) ab­sorb light of various wavelengths. Once vis­ual input is processed, the cephalopod sends a signal to a nerve fiber, which is connected to a muscle. That muscle relaxes and contracts to change the size and shape of the chromato­phore. Each color chromatophore is controlled by a different nerve, and when the attached muscle contracts, it flattens and stretches the pigment sack outward, expanding the color on the skin. When that muscle relaxes, the chro­matophore closes back up, and the color dis­appears. As many as two hundred of these may fill a patch of skin the size of a pencil eraser, like a shimmering pixel display.

The innermost layer of skin, composed of leuc­ophores, reflects ambient light. These broadband light reflectors give the cephalopods a ‘base coat’ that helps them match their surroundings.

Between the colorful chromatophores and the light-scattering leucophores is a reflective lay­er of skin made up of iridophores. These reflect light to create pink, yellow, green, blue, or silver coloration, while the reflector cells (found only in octopuses) reflect blue or green.

Watch this video from PBS Deep Look to learn more about how cephalopods use adaptive camouflage:

Please enable cookies to view this embedded content!

This content marked as “Google Youtube” uses cookies that you chose to keep disabled. Click here to open your preferences and accept cookies..

Image: Jupiterimages Corporation /
Image: Jupiterimages Corporation / Copyright © - All rights reserved
Image: Student of Marjan Eggermont at University of Calgary Schulich School of Engineering /
Image: Photo by Francis Nie on Unsplash / CC BY - Creative Commons Attribution alone

Related Innovations

Last Updated March 17, 2020