Cuttlefish are ugly-cute. With their big eyes, stubby tentacles and bulbous head, they look like creatures from an H.P. Lovecraft horror story. When they move forward — rippling their fins underneath their bodies — they look like prehistoric flying saucers. They hunt at night and are masters of disguise.
It turns out that this last attribute may have value beyond the sea. New research is showing that cuttlefish and their squid cousins may hold the key to creating new kinds of camouflage to mask clothes, buildings and vehicles.
Unlike any other animals, cuttlefish and squid use light to blend into or stand out from their surroundings. Marine scientists believe they do this using tiny sensors all over their skin that help them change color without sending messages to the brain. Exactly how it works is still a mystery.
Roger Hanlon, a senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, is collaborating with bioengineers across the country to develop a material that mimics this camouflage mechanism. The material might be able to hide objects or change the tint of your car. It might even allow buildings to keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter by darkening to absorb heat and lightening to reflect it.