Octopus – Masters of Camouflage

Octopus, Squids and Cuttlefish are among the few marine creatures that can camouflage themselves by completely changing the feel and color of their skin.

Also known as the chameleon of the sea, Cephalopods (the scientific name for mollusks with arms attached to their heads) pose the ability to change the color and texture of their skin to either match their surroundings or make them stand out to other underwater animals.

Here’s how it works:

Underneath their skin, they have special cells that are filled with different colors, called chromatophores. These small balloon-like elastic sacs contain a pigment that can vary from black, brown, orange, red to yellow. 

By using a network of finely controlled muscles, cephalopods can either stretch or contract these color-changing cells, to make them appear either brighter or darker. When the sacs are for example stretched the color appears brighter, as the color pigments are spaced out on a bigger surface. The opposite effect occurs when the cells are in a contracted or relaxed state. 

But their camouflage features don’t end here. Besides chromatophores, some cephalopods also have other cells, which give them the ability to change the surface texture of their skin to mimic the texture of rocks, corals or other nearby objects. This added layer of small reflecting plates (called papillae) can create fine bumps, high ridges or even spikey horns that they can deploy to match their surroundings. 

The reasons why they do this include:

  • to hide and make themselves invisible to predators
  • to sneak up and hunt possible prey
  • or as means of communication to either 
    – warn others with bright colours to stay away (a great example of this would be the extremely venomous blue-ringed octopus) or
    – attract the attention of females for reproduction

Fun Fact: The Mimic Octopus has a unique way of camouflaging. Rather than blending in with the seafloor, it changes its skin color and how it moves its tentacles to take on the shape of other sea creatures. It has been known to impersonate more than 15 different marine species, including flounders, lionfish, and sea snakes.

To learn more about our oceans and their fascinating inhabitants, make sure to check out previous articles.

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