A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Now You See It, Now You … Huh?


It’s an ocean bush. No, wait, it’s some kind of white projectile. Or … did it just turn into a pancake?

This is the video that Roger Hanlon of the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory captured of an octopus going about her business on the ocean floor. When he comes across her, she’s just part of the seaweed bush. Then, when he gets too close, she turns into a dangerous white blinking eye, then takes off and merges perfectly into the landscape of the ocean floor.

But how did she do it?? Scientists really haven’t a clue. All we know is that octopi and other cephalopods are some of the cleverest disappearing-act escape artists ever observed – or not observed. They can match the color and texture of their surroundings in fractions of a second by changing the size and shape of dynamic spots of pigments on their skin called chromatophores.

And just to add to the mystery: they appear to be colorblind. It’s even possible they see with their skin.

Nor is it the case that what we see when we’re looking at them is what’s actually on their skin. It seems they can manipulate those chromatophores in a way that causes us to see not exactly what’s objectively there, so to speak, but what our brains are expecting to see. So it’s likely that other kinds of animals are seeing something different from what we think we’re seeing.

Here’s an explanation from Flora Lichtman of NPR’s Science Friday: