Squids are highly interesting animals, with peculiar features bestowed on them by mother nature. One of those things is how squids can change their colours, from brown to red to back to brown again. Or also throw in some rainbows, metallic, and bright. This same ability can also be seen in other animals such as cuttlefish and octopus. Technically, all of them belong to one family – cephalopods – but squids are said to have a much cleaner and sophisticated way of changing their colour. What researchers are trying to do is finding a way to replicate this feature, so as to improvise and provide more utility to camouflaging devices. What’s more, if the researchers are able to imitate squid’s ability to change colours, materials that are resistant and colour-changing can also be made.
Leila Deravi, an assistant professor at Northeastern University, has been working on this project for long. “People have been trying to build devices that can mimic cephalopod colour change for a long time by using off-the-shelf components,” says Deravi. “Nobody has come anywhere near the speed and sophistication of how they actually work.”
She and Roger Hanlon, a Marine Biological Laboratory scientist, co-lead a large team of scientists and researchers, who are focusing on studying squids’ ability at a molecular level to decode this phenomenon. Their work on a particular squid, for example, has accelerated this whole research. While all the results extracted from the research done till now pointed out to just one thing – i.e. only pigmentary or just structural colouration can be yielded from the squids. However, upon looking closely, researchers found that the chromatophores of a squid have some kind of shimmer, which is bright and iridescent.
“In that top layer, embedded into the chromatophore organ, is structural colouration,” Hanlon said. “No one had found anything like that.”
Hanlon, who has invested around 40 years to studying squid’s – and fellow cephalopods – biology and was astonished to finding how he overlooked this discovery, saying he had found it before but didn’t realise its incredible significance. Nevertheless, the discovery has led to many significant uses in different fields. The silver lining in this whole situation is how Deravi puts it – “It’s not as far-fetched of a goal today as it was even three years ago.”