Cuttlefish: Masters of Disguise

Giant Australian Cuttlefish: Masters of Disguise


By Jennifer Charles-Santos

Disguised as rocks hiding in the depths of the ocean floor are the giant Australian cuttlefish, the masters of disguise. These cephalopods use camouflage as a defense mechanism against their predators. This camouflage is done by manipulating their skin, which contains chromatophores,papillae and leucophores. Chromatophores are used as pigments to alter the color of the cuttlefish’s skin while papillae determine the appropriate texture to blend into its environments. Leucophores also contain colors and alter patterns to help the cuttlefish camouflage adequately to environments. A cuttlefish’s eyes also help determine how it will camouflage. They are able to move closer or farther from the retina, allowing the cuttlefish to see its prey and predators from great distances. This allows the cuttlefish to instantaneously determine the colors and textures to integrate itself into its environment.

Though cuttlefish use camouflage as a defense mechanism, they also use camouflage to stalk prey. By camouflaging into its environments, these cephalopods can appear undetected and ambush their prey. However, if the camouflage fails, cuttlefish will attempt to daze its prey by altering its skin to flash different patterns. Cuttlefish have eight tentacles and two arms which also aid in camouflaging. These tentacles are hidden away when stalking prey and only the arms are used to lure in their victim.

Cuttlefish are also extremely intelligent and are able to use camouflage in other remarkable ways.  Large male cuttlefish will fight against each other and the victor will mate with a female. However, in some instances, a smaller male will trick a larger male into thinking he is a female, to lure the larger male away from the female cuttlefish by altering its skin to look like a female. Once the larger male has fallen for this deception, the smaller cuttlefish is able to mate with the female.

Cuttlefish’s camouflage is an important form of adaptation because allows them to survive in any environment. I believe this is a survival tactic that humans should study. The military uses camouflage the same way cuttlefish do, for stalking and apprehending targets. However, humans do not possess pigments in their skin to instantaneously blend into the environment like cuttlefish and instead must wear heavy gear to hide within a specific environment. If scientists could study the pigments in a cuttlefish’s skin that allows it to camouflage seamlessly into the environment, perhaps the world could invent a new technology which the military could use during stealth missions. Special lightweight gear designed like the skin of cuttlefish, that could generate textures and colors and mimic any environment, as opposed to one in specific. Perhaps these magnificent creatures can teach humans the art of disguise.

Below is a video of cuttlefish’s mating tricks:


Image courtesy of BBC Nature UK.



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