Colourblind squid camouflage inspires Navy research
Cephalopods—the group of mollusks that includes squid, octopus and cuttlefish—are famous for their amazing ability to blend quickly into their surroundings. Now the US Office of Naval Research is funding research in several universities into man-made materials that have the same instant camouflage properties.1
On land, the chameleon has a most ingenious colour-changing system.2 But the colour changes are caused by hormones that travel through their blood system. Cephalopods change colour through their nervous system, so they adjust much faster—in only a second or two.
Even more amazing, they do so despite being colourblind themselves! So how do they know what colours they need to produce in order to match their surroundings? It turns out that their skin has the same sort of light-sensitive proteins as the eye—opsins—meaning that the skin itself can ‘see’ the surrounding colours and change colour accordingly. Researcher Thomas Cronin, an opsin specialist, said:
“The opsins may check the environment cell by cell to see what they’re doing, or they may sense color in a way the eyes are not capable [of] doing.”1
The researchers are still investigating whether the colour change involves the brain, or is an automatic skin response. They are also trying to find out whether different opsins detect different colours (wavelengths).
These scientists plan to work out how the sensors are constructed and embedded in the cephalopod skin. This might enable them to make sheets of material—nicknamed ‘squid skin’—that could sense the background and change colour to match.
This is not the first example of human designers inspired by cephalopods. Another example is a highly energy-efficient TV screen modeled from one of the cuttlefish’s colour-changing mechanisms, the iridophores.3
In fact, there is a whole field of biomimetics—copying the ingenious designs in biology.4,5 This combines many different branches of science. For example, this ‘squid skin’ project includes experts in nanotechnology, materials science, marine biology, and animal behaviour. Yet this is merely imitating the One who has supreme mastery of all the sciences, because He is responsible for all the laws by which He upholds the universe (Colossians 1:15 ff.)6
The article1 made another interesting point that inadvertently refutes a favourite anticreationist argument, by atheist Richard Dawkins and others. That is, the cephalopods’ fish predators have much better colour vision. Yet Dawkins has attacked the vertebrate (including fish) retina as being wired badly because it is ‘backwards’, while the cephalopods supposedly have the ‘right’ front wiring. Yet the ‘backwardly’ wired eyes see better, because they are a fine design feature. Recent discoveries show that the Müller cells form a fibre optic plate that transmits light through the nerves to the photoreceptors without distortion, and even screen out stray reflections and remove chromatic aberration.7
References and notes
- Gwynne, P., Navy Studying Squid Skin to Create New Camouflage Patterns; www.foxnews.com, 21 May 2011. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., A coat of many colours: Captivating chameleons, Creation 26(4):28–33, 2004; creation.com/chameleon. See also By Design, ch. 3, “Colours and Patterns”, 2008. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., Cuttlefish colour changes inspire new energy-efficient TV screen design, Creation 32(1):22–23, 2010; creation.com/cuttlefish. Return to text.
- Expert engineer eschews “evolutionary design”: Philip Bell interviews creationist and Professor of Engineering Design, Stuart Burgess, Creation 32(1):35–37, 2009; creation.com/burgess. Return to text.
- See also the articles under creation.com/biomimetics. Return to text.
- See Sarfati, J., Why does science work at all? Creation 31(3):12–14, 2009; creation.com/whyscience and The biblical roots of modern science, Creation 32(4):32–36, 2010; creation.com/roots. Return to text.
- See Sarfati, J., Backwardly wired retina “an optimal structure”: New eye discovery further demolishes Dawkins; creation.com/mueller-v-dawkins, 27 May 2010. Also this refutation of critics: creation.com/mueller-feedback, 3 July 2010. Return to text.