Let’s all take a moment to stop and marvel at the ability of the Australian giant cuttlefish (Sepia apama) to camouflage itself, not just by changing the color and pattern of its skin, but also by altering its texture. That’s right, before there was a mutant named Mystique, there were cephalopods doing what we’ve thus far only managed to accomplish in FX departments.
Those spiky bumps rising up on the cuttlefish’s skin are called papillae and the cuttlefish uses them to mimic the rough texture nearby coral and other marine terrain. This, combined with the animal’s ability to change the colors and patterns of its skin, makes them virtually invisible when they want to be.
“The biggest surprise for us was to see that these skin spikes, called papillae, can hold their shape in the extended position for more than an hour, without neural signals controlling them,” says Paloma Gonzalez-Bellido of the University of Cambridge, a 2018 Whitman Center Fellow and former staff scientist at the MBL. This sustained tension, the team found, arises from specialized musculature in papillae that is similar to the “catch” mechanism in clams and other bivalves.
Head over to The Marine Biological Laboratory to learn more about this fascinating ability and the neurological controls behind it.