Squids and their relatives are known as ‘chameleons of the sea’ and for good reason. Their freakishly fast colour-changing skills make the land chameleon blush with embarrassment. How do they achieve such remarkable feats?
Their bodies are covered with little pages of coloured pigment called chromatophores which expand and contract. Underneath the chromatophores are a layer of iridophores, tiny iridescent crystals that act as a mirror, reflecting which colors they absorb (this can also create additional colours).
By combining reflection from the iridophores with the chromatophores, cephalopods can camouflage themselves into their surroundings at the blink of an eye and can create the fabulous kaleidoscope of pulsating colour changes they’re famous for.
Scientists have been trying to replicate this process for what seems a gazillion years to explore its use in human applications and it seems… the jig may be up.
By removing the colour pigments from the squid and isolating the pigment granules, they discovered that the granules had some pretty fancy pants optical qualities. If they layered and reorganised the particles they could produce a pretty impressive color pallet. Not only this, the pigments were found to scatter both visible and infrared light.
What does this mean? It enhances brightness and light absorption and affects how a final color is perceived. They then decided to engineer a system that included a mirror that mimicked the layer of iridophores, which sit under the chromatophores. This further enhanced the perceived color through scattering light through and off the granules.
Exploring its applications, scientists turned the animal's pigment particles into spools of fiber that has potential applications in textiles, flexible displays, future color-changing devices which understandably the army are pretty excited about (they love playing hide ‘n’ seek). What’s even more exciting is that it has applications in the design of solar cells to increase the absorption of sunlight.
Original scientific paper here: