Hyperspectral imaging sheds light on how colorblind animals camouflage themselves

Hyperspectral imaging (HSI) technology has enabled researchers at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL; Woods Hole, MA) to begin developing an understanding of how colorblind animals are able to effectively camouflage themselves in a wide range of backgrounds. The scientists have leveraged HSI to measure color match between animal and background, and to model camouflage in the eyes of predators. The camera in their HSI-based system captures the entire color spectrum using 540 "windows" instead of just three colors (red, green, blue, known as RGB), as do standard digital cameras.

The team studied camouflage in marine animals known as coleoid cephalopods, which includes octopus, squid, and cuttlefish. Camouflage body patterns in cuttlefish happen to be a visually driven behavior, and previous studies have shown that brightness, contrast, and edge and size of objects are essential for eliciting camouflaged body patterns.

But cephalopod eyes lack color perception, leading the researchers to question how they achieve effective camouflage while being colorblind. Using HSI allowed the team to  “see” things that humans, and many predators, cannot because of the limitations on our eyes.

The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Posted by Lee Mather

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