Each new year's eve, I think about if aliens were watching us from somewhere far, far away, they would probably be utterly bemused by our fascination with pretty, flashing, and very expensive light shows.
"They're the same every year!" one alien would exclaim. "Sure, this year they trained the lights around the shape of a cowboy hat, but really, a firework is a firework, as far as I can tell," another would note. We humans can't help it, we're just fascinated with sparkly lights. But we're not alone, as the ingenious hunting method of the cuttlefish above demonstrates.
When threatened, a cuttlefish can change its colours instantaneously to blend in with its environment. It does this projecting colours on its skin, sort of like how colour television projects images, Dave Hansford writes for National Geographic.
"It really is electric skin," Roger Hanlon, senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in the US, told Hansford, because neurons in the brain transmit signals to the cells in the skin, instructing them to turn on and off. "A cuttlefish has maybe 10 million little colour cells in its skin, and each one of them is controlled by a neuron. If you turn some on, but leave others switched off, you can create patterns."
And on top of this, highly pigmented organs called chromatophores are capable of directly displaying bright reds, yellows, browns, and blacks through the cuttlefish's skin - whichever hue best blends in with the environment around it.
But in the video above, we can see this ability work in the opposite way - to make the cuttlefish incredibly conspicuous to nearby creatures. The prey, a crab in this instance, can't help but look, which allows the cuttlefish to move close and snatch it up. Genius.