Anatomical basis for camouflaged polarized light communication in squid


Pygmy Octopus

Camouflage is a means to defeat visual detection by predators, whereas visual communication involves a signal that is conspicuous to a receiver (usually a conspecific). However, most intraspecific visual signals are also conspicuous to predators, so that signalling can lead to the serious consequence of predation. Could an animal achieve visual camouflage and simultaneously send a hidden visual message to a conspecific? Here, we present evidence that the polarized aspect of iridescent colour in squid skin is maintained after it passes through the overlying pigmented chromatophores, which produce the highly evolved—and dynamically changeable—camouflaged patterns in cephalopods. Since cephalopods are polarization sensitive, and can regulate polarization via skin iridescence, it is conceivable that they could send polarized signals to conspecifics while staying camouflaged to fish or mammalian predators, most of which are not polarization sensitive.

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