Skip to content

Skip to table of contents


The Color-Changing Ability of the Cuttlefish

The Color-Changing Ability of the Cuttlefish

CUTTLEFISH can change their color and camouflage themselves, becoming almost invisible to the human eye. According to one report, cuttlefish “are known to have a diverse range of body patterns and they can switch between them almost instantaneously.” How do cuttlefish do it?

Consider: The cuttlefish changes color by using the chromatophore, a special kind of cell found under its skin. Chromatophores contain sacs that are full of colored pigment and that are surrounded by tiny muscles. When the cuttlefish needs to camouflage itself, its brain sends a signal to contract the muscles around the sacs. Then the sacs and the pigment within them expand, and the cuttlefish quickly changes its color and pattern. The cuttlefish may use this skill not only for camouflage but also to impress potential mates and perhaps communicate.

Engineers at the University of Bristol, England, built an artificial cuttlefish skin. They sandwiched disks of black rubber between small devices that function like cuttlefish muscles. When the researchers applied electricity to the skin, the devices flattened and expanded the black disks, darkening and changing the color of the artificial skin.

Research on cuttlefish muscles—“the soft structures that nature is so good at making,” according to engineer Jonathan Rossiter—could lead to clothing that changes color in a fraction of a second. Rossiter says that people might wear cuttlefish-inspired clothes for camouflage—or simply for fashion.

What do you think? Did the ability of cuttlefish to change color come about by evolution? Or was it designed?