This Octopus's Camouflage Is Almost Unbelievable

Witness nature's closest thing to an invisibility cloak
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How much of the Earth do you think has been explored? Sure, humans have trekked the continents and we have satellite maps of the globe, but what about the 70 percent of the planet that's covered with ocean?

Oceanographer David Gallo said today at the Aspen Ideas Festival that perhaps only five percent of the world's oceans have been seen by humans.

Why does that matter? After all, the bottom of the ocean may not seem like the most interesting place in the world. But Gallo argued that all kinds of discoveries might be made in the depths. Like what?

How about this incredibly crowd-pleasing octopus, which has a skill for camouflage that borders on magical. The video was captured by one of Gallo's colleagues at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Roger Hanlon, and you really must see it to believe it. Hanlon has showed the video a few times and some Internet denizen took the pains to slow down and reverse the footage.

What makes the camouflaging so remarkable is that the octopus matches not just the color and pattern of the algae on which it's hiding but the texture, too. In fact, the octopus-camouflage system is fantastically complicated, as you can see in the chart below, which I snipped from a 1980 paper that Hanlon co-authored. There are two dozen ways that the octopus can change its appearance to match its environment.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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