A Body-Wide Eye

A California two-spot octopus hatchling.

A California two-spot octopus hatchling.

The octopus is far more than eight clever legs. These animals are not only the most sophisticated of the mollusks, research has shown that the animals use their skin as a backup for their eyes. A new study by a pair of scientists from the University of California Santa Barbara presents their findings on the animals in the latest Journal of Experimental Biology.

Dr. Desmond Ramirez and Todd Oakley, were inspired to test questions raised by previous findings about the cephalopods, notes their report in the Journal of Experimental Biology:

“…Octopuses collect information about their setting with their large camera-like eyes before sending signals to chromatophores in the skin to change color. However, Ramirez had noticed two reports describing how the color-changing structures (chromatophores) in tiny biopsies of squid and octopus skin reacted to light with no input from the eyes or brain…”

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According to an article by Julie Cohen in The UC Santa Barbara Current, they found that chemicals found in Octopus eyes are in their skin, too.

 “A new study by UCSB scientists has found that the skin of the California two-spot octopus (Octopus bimaculoides) can sense light even without input from the central nervous system. The animal does so by using the same family of light-sensitive proteins called opsins found in its eyes — a process not previously described for cephalopods.”

By shining white light on octopus tissues, Ramirez found that the skin color changes even when the animal’s eyes and brain weren’t involved in the exposure, Cohen adds. The process was coined Light-Activated Chromatophone Expansion (LACE).

Image by Sonia Fernandez

Image of Todd Oakley (l) and Desmond Ramirez by Sonia Fernandez

 “Octopus skin doesn’t sense light in the same amount of detail as the animal does when it uses its eyes and brain,” said lead author Desmond Ramirez, a doctoral student in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology (EEMB). “But it can sense an increase or change in light. Its skin is not detecting contrast and edge but rather brightness.”



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