Lying Like a Cuttlefish

In the New Inquiry:

1. The Deceitful Bodies of Cuttlefish

It is in the nature of cuttlefish to deceive. Like other cephalopods—the mimic octopus and bobtail squid, for example—cuttlefish are bosses of camouflage. The capacity for deceit is born of the relationship among their eyes, nervous system and three types of skin cell that scientists refer to as chromatophores, leucophores, and iridophores. The chromatophores expand or contract to create different colors and patterns. The iridophores and leucophores reflect light and iridescence. Cuttlefish turn a translucent white to blend in with a sandy seabed. Mottled shades of grey mimic a pebbly substrate. Reds, blues, and pinks blend in with coral in order to fool predators. Their skin not only changes color, but also texture. Smooth on the white sands. Rough, almost pitted for the pebbles. Scientists refer to this capacity for camouflage as background adaptation. It is a technique shared with chameleons, fish, and frogs. This protects cuttlefish from predators and enhances their ability to sneak up on prey.

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