How Do Octopuses Change Color

Octopuses are well-known for their exceptional ability to change colors using specialized skin cells called chromatophores, iridophores, and leucophores. They are used for various reasons such as protection, hunting, and communication.

In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of octopus skin and touch upon the enigmatic camouflage of cephalopods.

The Science Behind Octopus Skin

Octopus skin can change color and texture due to special cells and muscle control, as well as its nerve system. There are three main cells for color change: chromatophores, iridophores, and leucophores. Octopuses also have structures called papillae that control skin texture. By changing papillae, they can make their skin smooth, rough, or bumpy.

Here is a few details about each cell:

  • Chromatophores: These are pigment-containing cells that can expand or contract. Each chromatophore is surrounded by tiny muscles, and when these muscles contract, the pigment sac expands, revealing more color. When the muscles relax, the chromatophore retracts, reducing the color’s visibility. Chromatophores contain various pigments, including red, yellow, brown, and black, which allow the octopus to create a wide range of colors and patterns.
  • Iridophores: These cells contain thin, plate-like structures that reflect and scatter light, producing iridescent colors. Iridophores can create shiny, metallic, or pearlescent effects, which can help the octopus blend into its environment or communicate with other octopuses.
  • Leucophores: These cells help with white coloration. They scatter light in all directions, creating a bright, reflective appearance.

Mastering Camouflage: Why Octopuses Change Color

Octopuses are adept at using camouflage for a variety of reasons which contribute to their survival and success in the ocean. These reasons include:

  • Protection from predators: Octopuses have a wide range of potential predators, from large fishes to marine mammals. By changing their colors and patterns to blend in with their environment, they make it difficult for predators to spot them.
  • Hunting: In order to catch prey, octopuses use their camouflage abilities to sneak up on their target without being noticed. They can match the colors and textures of their surroundings, allowing them to get as close as possible to their prey before striking.
  • Communication: Octopuses can communicate with each other using visual cues created by their color-changing abilities. They use specific patterns and colors to indicate their mood or intentions to other octopuses.

Examples of mimicry and other masters of disguise in the ocean include:

  • The mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus): This species is known for its ability to impersonate other marine animals, such as sea snakes, lionfish, or flatfish, to deter potential predators.
  • Cuttlefish: Like octopuses, cuttlefish are cephalopods with the ability to change their color and texture, allowing them to blend in with their surroundings seamlessly.
  • Leafy sea dragon: This unique fish resembles seaweed, with leaf-like structures that sway in the water, helping it hide from both predators and prey.


Octopuses have developed remarkable camouflage abilities to increase their survival and success in the ocean. These adaptations allow them to protect themselves from predators, improve their hunting efficiency, and communicate with each other effectively. Their incredible mimicry and disguise skills, such as the mimic octopus, illustrate just how adept these creatures are at blending into their surroundings.