The cuttlefish is well known for its ability to hide in plain sight by rapidly changing the pattern and colour of its skin – to communicate, attract a mate and to avoid predators such as dolphins, sharks and seals.
Scientists from Harvard University and the marine biological laboratory in Massachusetts have studied the unique characteristics of the cuttlefish to try to uncover how they change their appearance to blend into their environment.
They believe if they can mimic how the cuttlefish camouflages itself, there will be many practical uses for the technology – such as cosmetics, textiles and paints.
They have discovered new details about neural organs called chromatophores, which enable the ‘chameleon of the sea’ to virtually disappear.
And now U.S. scientists are looking to the fish’s camouflage mechanisms in order to develop futuristic uniforms for soldiers, which could help them to blend in with their surroundings in realtime.
Known as the ‘chameleon of the sea’, the cuttlefish is able to rapidly change the colour and pattern of its skin allowing it to be unnoticed by its predators.
A joint study by Harvard University and the Marine Biological Laboratory is working on how to mimic the cuttlefish’s camouflage response in textiles and cosmetics.
The whole idea that you could do away with synthetic chemicals and use proteins that you harvest from animals to make food dye would really help eliminate all types of chemicals that show up in food in the name of colouring them.
The ability for the cuttlefish to change its appearance is due to millions of tiny organs that cover its body called chromatophores which contain pouches of various pigments which are used to colour the skin depending on its environment.
Until now scientists have thought the pigments were just selective colour filters but they have found that each colour is made up of pigment and a luminescent protein nanostructure called reflectin which gives the cuttlefish its unique ability to blend in.
They have these magnificent eyes that look at the surrounding background and take that complexity of information, and by some relatively simple rules, they turn on quickly the right camouflage pattern.
And part of the secret is that they seem to get away with three to five camouflage patterns on all these different substrates – something that we discovered as a counterintuitive sort of notion to a human but that’s how they do it.
The amount of money that goes into the research and then the ability to translate this into something manufacturable, and then obviously it’s got to be able to sell for a reasonable cost, that’s a whole other question and it kind of depends on consumer demand, and it depends on the kind of money that’s going to come into it.
If we push a lot of money into it, we might be able to do something like this in five years. If we drag our feet and don’t put a whole lot of money into it, obviously it will linger for a little bit longer.