New Discovery Shows How Giant Humboldt Squids Use Flashes of Color To Communicate and Camouflage


Thanks to a new technology called a “Crittercam,” scientists from the Stanford University Hopkins Marine Station have gotten the unprecedented ability to see how marine animals, most recently three giant Humboldt squids, interact with and respond to their environments.

Although researchers have known that Humboldt squids are capable of “flashing” red and white colors on their bodies, the research team discovered that these flashes are more complex than previously thought.

After strapping the Crittercams to three different squids (who could still move freely despite the cameras), the research team found that the squids were capable of changing the color of their bodies between red and white so quickly that the behavior was named “flashing.” Moreover, it appears that the squids used these flashes as a way of communicating with each other and hiding from predators.

Although plenty of animals are capable of changing body color in order to camouflage themselves, the chromatphores (i.e., unique and complex cells) of Humboldt squids allow them to achieve an expert level of something called “crypsis,” which is the ability to blend in with one’s surroundings naturally and flawlessly.

The research team found that the squids tended to display an oscillating pattern of red and white flashes when other squids were nearby, but that each squid also displayed a second type of light pattern while alone. This second pattern was more of a rippling effect, mimicking the way that light would reflect through water.

The team is reportedly planning on fitting more Crittercams onto Humboldt squids to investigate the matter further; as lead author of the study Hannah Rosen states, the team hasn’t been able to figure out exactly what the squids were communicating to each other, or what caused individual squids to camouflage themselves.

For a more detailed look at the findings, the Journal of Experimental Biology has published an online, in-depth analysis — complete with the video from each squid’s Crittercam, which can be found on the Supplemental Materials page.

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