Even though most creatures use any of a variety of types of camouflage, scientists know very little about the way effective camouflage is created and its characteristics. Cephalopods – the molluscan class that includes octopuses – are considered the most developed, from an evolutionary point of view, of any sea creatures.
It is known that their flexible nervous system allows the cephalopods to change the color and even the texture of their skin to adapt to their environment. The existence of large numbers of sea predators is the driving force for the development of various defensive mechanisms and behaviors, including camouflage. The best way to avoid becoming lunch is to make sure that nobody else sees you.
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But the cephalopods, which may look like they have a low IQ, are even cleverer, according to findings by Ben-Gurion University doctoral student Noam Josef, supervised by Dr. Nadav Shashar. He recently published an article on the subject in the journal PLoS One that aroused much interest among scientists. The BGU team did their research at the Eilat campus for marine biology and biotechnology research, along with colleagues at the Naples Zoological Station, creating mathematical tools to analyze photographs, the environmental parameters and the amount of information collected to create a believable disguise.
The Israelis flew to the island of Capri to photograph two local specimens – Octopus cyanea and Octopus vulgaris – with their Italian colleagues. Each of the images was taken from above, as if it were viewed from the level of a shark, and in gray tones (because octopuses are color blind.) From the photos, they chose a white rectangle containing the cephalopod’s “head” without the eight legs. A computer program compared that section to other parts of the picture, looking for similar images.