Sciency Words: Chromatophore

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Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:

CHROMATOPHORE

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.

P.S.: If you’ve got a good idea for a new and interesting alien species—perhaps a species with an unusual method of communication—click here to submit it to the Alien August competition at Sci Fi Ideas. It’s all aliens all month long, with some truly wild and wonderful creatures making their debut appearances on the Internet.

One Response to Sciency Words: Chromatophore

  1. […] Last week, we talked about chromatophores, the special cells that allow squid to change colors. Squiddish consists of rapid combinations of color patterns and body postures. The 2003 scientific paper “Squid Say It with Skin” attempts to document squid language and suggests terms to describe the “words” or “phrases” of squid speech. Examples include: […]

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