Release The Kraken!


Might there come a day when a Navy ship’s captain will turn to his XO and, in his best Liam Neeson-as-Zeus, order say “Release the Kraken!”

In its search for the best way to camouflage its boats, the Navy wants to know how kraken – octopus, squid and cuttlefish – are able to blend in so well with their surroundings.

"They can change the color, the brightness and even the texture of their skins instantaneously,” says Wendy Williams, who writes about the creatures’ “adaptive camouflage” abilities in, “Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid.” Researchers like to say that their skins are like television screens, able to pick up and display whatever environment is around them, she said. And it’s this “quick-change artist” capability that the Navy wants to know more about. It is currently underwriting research on squid at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole on Cape Cod for that purpose.

The secret is in the cells, said Joe DeGiorgis, a researcher at the MBL. About 60 percent of kraken neurons – the cells that transmit information – are in its limbs, not the brain. This gives it the ability to change the structure, shape, luminosity and color of its skin.

“By blending its colors it comes up with different patterns to blend in with an environment,” he said.

Williams said the Air Force is also interested in squid camouflage, and is conducting its own research at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

-- Bryant Jordan


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