Cuttlefish camouflage copied

When it comes to hide and seek,
the cuttlefish has everyone beat.
The marine mollusc can change
the colour, pattern and texture of
its skin to blend in with almost
any environment, making it all
but invisible to predators. Now
a team of researchers at Harvard
University has moved a step closer
to unlocking the secrets of this
master of disguise, and potentially
creating better camouflage for
the military.

The cuttlefish’s skin is
loaded with neurally controlled,
pigmented organs called
chromatophores that allow it to
change its appearance in response
to visual cues. These were
previously thought to be simple
colour filters but the team has
discovered there is much more
going on.
In addition to these
chromatophores, cuttlefish skin
has two further layers of tiny
optical components that help
it disguise itself: light scatterers
named leucophores and light
reflectors named iridophores.
This layering enables the skin
of the animal to selectively
absorb or reflect light of
different colours, and so alter its
appearance.
“Nature solved the riddle
of adaptive camouflage a long
time ago. Now the challenge is
to reverse-engineer this system
in a cost-efficient, synthetic
system that is amenable to mass
manufacturing,” said Kevin Kit
Parker. “Throughout history,
people have dreamed of having
an ‘invisible suit’. Now it’s up to
us to replicate nature’s genius.”
As well as being used in
military camouflage, the team
says the findings could also
have applications in materials
for paints, cosmetics or even
consumer electronics.


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