The Octopus can use it’s skin to see

The Two-Spot Octopus (this is a hatchling) was used in the research
The Two-Spot Octopus (this is a hatchling) was used in the research

I’m forever amazed at the Octopus. Regarded as one of steampunk’s “Mascots”, the Cephalopod doesn’t just bear a striking resemblance to everyone’s favourite Elder God.

I’ve already written a couple of interesting features on the wonder of the Octopus, from the steampunk lamp that illuminates using luminescent microbes harvested from the Octopus’ skin, to the development of a full genome sequence to help medicine and marine biology development. I’m wary that I may have to change the name of the publication to the Octopus Journal if I continue to cover much more of them, but I’m constantly being sent news items about how amazing and intelligent they are.

Now scientists have discovered that the Octopus can actually see through it’s skin. Well, variations in light brightness, at least.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology and in a video statement, the lead author, Desmond Ramirez, said: “Octopus skin can sense light by itself. It doesn’t need the eyes to be able to sense light.”

It’s not like they can detect people or faces, or anything, but it’s speculated that it may be the reason why they can adapt their colour to their surroundings so successfully.

Incredibly, the scientists didn’t even use live subjects. They stretched tissue samples out under various light conditions and noted that the pigmentation spots – chromatophores –  on the skin got larger which then darkened the tissue. Further research discovered the presence of light sensitive proteins called Opsins. These are normally present in the Octopus’ eyes. The most interesting part of this research is that by using tissue from a subject instead of an actual subject means that it doesn’t need a brain to make the changes.

No-one is entirely sure how they use this evolution to actually camouflage themselves. Maybe that’s the missing link because of the lack of a brain attached to the samples that were tested.

3 thoughts on “The Octopus can use it’s skin to see

  1. This would surprise me more if I didn’t know as much about horseshoe crabs as I do. They aren’t closely related or anything, but I learned from working in a science museum that horseshoe crabs have 2 real eyes, but a total of 9 parts of their body that sense light vs. dark. Nature is so amazing! Have you ever seen a documentary called “Kings of Camaouflage”? It is about cuttlefish and is absolutely stunning. I have it embedded in this post if you want to watch:

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