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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Emerging Science Note/Bio-camouflage

Air Date: Week of March 28, 2003

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Living on Earth’s Maggie Villiger reports on an innovation in camouflage technology that takes its lead from the lowly cuttlefish.

Transcript

CURWOOD: Coming up, how Iraq's landscape has changed from the days when it was the cradle of civilization.

First, this Note on Emerging Science from Maggie Villiger.

[MUSIC: Science Note Theme]

VILLIGER: Mother Nature has a habit of solving lots of engineering problems, and scientists at Bath University's Center for Biomimetics and Natural Technologies in England are adapting some of her solutions for modern applications. With an eye toward developing a new kind of camouflage for the military, researchers at Bath have recently turned their focus on the lowly cuttlefish.

This cousin to the squid and octopus can quickly change color to blend in with its surroundings, a talent the military would like its own troops and equipment to share. Cuttlefish have transparent skin, and just underneath are little sacs called chromatophores filled with pigment. The pigment ranges in color from brown to orange to red, and manipulating these colors allows the creatures to blend in with sandy dirt, for instance.

But how do they camouflage if they're in a bright-green kelp forest? It turns out that below the chromatophores, cuttlefish also have white patches of cells called leucophores. By scattering and diffracting light, these leucophores reflect the color of their environment. That's how the cuttlefish can appear green when surrounded by algae.

Researchers are adapting this mirror-like technology in gels and plastics that the military could employ to hide in any environment, from sandy desert to leafy forest.

That's this week's Note on Emerging Science. I'm Maggie Villiger.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Munir Bashir “Taqsim en Maqam Nahawand-Kabir” L’art du n’ud - Orcora (2001)]

 

Links

Bath University's Centre for Biomimetics and Natural Technologies

 

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