This Octopus's Camouflage Is Almost Unbelievable

Witness nature's closest thing to an invisibility cloak
More

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.

componentsbodypatterns.jpg


Jump to comments
Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called 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 website 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.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

An Eerie Tour of Chernobyl's Wasteland

"Do not touch the water. There is nothing more irradiated than the water itself."


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In