Today’s post is part of a special series that first appeared on Planet Pailly. Every Thursday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:
Chromatophores are special cells in the skin of some animals, most notably the squid and the chameleon. These cells contain pigments. When stimulated by hormones, muscle contractions, or other mechanisms, chromatophores expand or contract, changing the animal’s skin color.
There are several different kinds of chromatophore, depending on their hue:
Erythrophores contain red pigment.
Xanthophores contain yellow.
Cyanophores contain blue.
As I’m sure you can guess, different combinations of cells can produce almost any color of the rainbow. Other chromatophores contain shades of black or white or can make the color look shinier.
Most animals use chromatophores for camouflage, but some species of squid may actually use rapidly changing colors as a form of communication. I’d guess their language consists of little more than phrases like “Danger!” “Food this way!” and “Wanna hook up?” Which are, to be honest, the only things worth saying anyway.
What we learn about chromatophores could be useful for helping us understand extra terrestrial life. It could also help us Sci-Fi aficionados design our own alien species. It’s important to remember that verbal language isn’t the only possible form of communication—not even here on Earth.