If you've ever had the chance to see an octopus in its natural environment, then you're one of the lucky ones. These highly-intelligent cephalopods have an incredible ability to camouflage themselves in an instant and blend into the background of whatever material they happen to be on. Not only can they change the color of their skin, but they also change the texture as well –– making them masters of disguise.
The two main components that make this transformation possible are the pigment cells called chromatophores, which are responsible for the color change, and the malleable papillae in their skin which are responsible for the ability to change its texture, allowing for a 3-D morphing capability. Sometimes referred to as the "chameleons of the sea," we know relatively little about the actual mechanisms that make these incredible transformations possible in octopuses.
Hopefully that will change in the near future as there are a few studies out there that have started to look into it. This study, from researchers at the world-famous Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, focused on four species of octopus and two species of cuttlefish (a cousin of the octopus). It turns out that the octopus has "muscular hydrostats", which are similar to the human tongue and can change their shape and size by stretching or contracting to create the texture on the skin.
Strangely enough, it appears that octopuses are at least partially color blind so how they see the color of the material they are laying on so that they can match the color almost exactly is still a mystery. Some scientists believe that their complex eye can see color in a way that no other species can.
Literally, 2-seconds later...
Another amazing thing about octopuses, in addition to how they can change their skin color and texture, is their ability to fit into the tiniest of cracks and crevices in the reef. They can literally squeeze into areas much smaller than they are because of the elasticity and malleability of their bodies. Unfortunately, some octopuses are now even using ocean plastic pollution and other man-made objects as houses or refuge. This really is a sad sight to see.
Check out the videos we put together with Ocean Conservancy®, our non-profit partner for this month's Octopus Bracelet. Nick Mallos, Director of the Trash Free Seas® program at Ocean Conservancy, talks about the incredible octopus and why it is so important to pay attention to these fascinating creatures — if you can find them...
"The ocean faces a lot of challenges. Ocean plastics is one of the more simple ones. Ocean plastic is not an ocean problem, it's a people problem. We are the problem, that also means that we are the solution." Nick Mallos, Ocean Conservancy.
If you've ever come across an octopus in the wild, let us know what the experience was like in the comment section below. Make sure to follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to stay up to date on all things 4ocean! Also, head on over to our Discover 4ocean Facebook Group to get in on the conversation around ocean plastic pollution and other important ocean conservation topics.