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Stunning Video Explains How Octopuses Out-Change Chameleons

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Image courtesy of Flickr/Joachim S. Muller

Chameleons are often considered the quintessential color-changers. But the octopus outdoes them—using an entirely different mechanism to alter its appearance.

“Octopuses are one of the best animals on the planet at camouflage—they change color, shape and texture,” explains James Wood, a marine biologist in a recent video for the site Macronesia.

Chameleons depend on hormones to cue their color change. These hormones release into the blood stream and circulate to the skin, where they translate their message to change. This system is fairly seamless, but it does require full seconds to achieve the desired look, Wood explains.

The octopus, however uses neurons that fire within fractions of a second to start changing its hue or pattern.

But they aren’t just adaptable canvases. They are also quick learners. “In captivity they watch you, and they often figure out who feeds them,” he says. Like a more traditional household pet, “they often will beg for food.”

All of these bizarre feats do beg the question, as Wood asks in the video: “What is an octopus?” Check out the lovely film—with stunning underwater video captured in the Philippines and Guam by Shane Siers.

Read more about the amazing capabilities of octopuses in Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea.

Illustration courtesy of Ivan Phillipsen


Katherine Harmon Courage About the Author: Katherine Harmon Courage is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Scientific American. Her book Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea is out now from Penguin/Current. Follow on Twitter @KHCourage.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. SJCrum 6:52 pm 06/1/2014

    For information, octopi accomplish their camouflage in the same exact way that I have described before, and because God used just one method for chameleons and these also.

    Link to this

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