Most of you have seen videos of octopi, cuttlefish or squids changing colors. Some of them change slowly while others change colors so fast that it looks like a computer generated light show. Colors can flash across their bodies like waves, some just flash one color and then another and other form complex patterns that move over their bodies. They can use their ability to change color to send signals to each other and to camouflage themselves to their surroundings as in this video:
Squids, cuttlefish and octopi have specialized color cells known as chromatophores (chromato referring to color and phores referring to bearing – color bearing). Scientists have been studying chromatophores for some time now, trying to figure out the secrets of how they actually work. They found that chromatophores can enlarge to more than 15 times their size in less than a second. But they want to know how they do it and how they do it so rapidly.
Daniel DeMartini and Daniel E. Morse, researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara led a team of scientists in studying this amazing color changing mechanism. They focused their attention on opalescent inshore squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) also known as the market squid.
Their research revealed that a chemical known as acetylcholine acted as a neural transmitter causing the color changes to occur. The acetylcholine interacted with different phosphate groups to cause changes in a family of proteins knows as reflectins, but it’s much more complicated than just that.
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