Skin color changes reveal octopus drama | Science News

SUPPORT SCIENCE NEWS

Science News is a nonprofit.

Help us keep you informed.



Science Ticker

A roundup of research
and breaking news

Science News Staff
Science Ticker

Skin color changes reveal octopus drama

octopus

An octopus displays dark color and spreads its tentacles in Jervis Bay, Australia. Researchers think this behavior indicates aggression to the animal’s peers. 

Sponsor Message

View the video

Octopus emotions may run skin deep, researchers report January 28 in Current Biology. Changes in octopus skin color primarily function as camouflage, though some evidence points to other purposes.

Biologists from Australia and the United States spied on shallow-water octopuses (Octopus tetricus, also known as the gloomy octopus) feeding in Jervis Bay, Australia. Sifting through 52 hours of footage, they saw that the animals adopted a darker hue, stood tall and spread their arms and web when being aggressive or intimidating. Other members of the same species either responded in kind and fought or turned a pale color before swimming away.

Skin color changes appear to serve as a form of communication in these conflicts — the first evidence of such an octopus communication system at play in the wild, the researchers assert. The work also challenges the stereotype that octopuses are solitary and antisocial

In Jervis Bay, Australia, a gloomy octopus (Octopus tetricus) displays aggressive behaviors: dark skin color, elevated mantle and spread web. Another octopus approaches and reacts by changing its skin to a pale color before swimming away to avoid conflict. 

Credit: Scheel et al/Current Biology 2016

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content