One is soft and fluffy; one is wet and presumably quite slimy. One lives on land, while one floats under the sea. The heaviest weight of one is 600 pounds, while the other can reach only 21 pounds. One has four furry feet, and the other has eight long tentacles. These two creatures are very different, yet they share one common similarity: camouflage. Both the arctic fox and the octopus depend on this colorful capability, even though they live in two very different worlds.
The octopus is a weird and wonderful creature that lives deep in the waters of the ocean. An average octopus can be over 4 feet in length and weigh 22 pounds, although many octopuses are much smaller. The biggest octopus ever discovered was 30 feet across and weighed more than 600 pounds. That’s the same weight as a full-grown grizzly bear! Their size doesn’t impede their flexibility, however; a 100-pound octopus can still squeeze through a hole the size of an orange. Imagine that!
Octopuses have beaks like parrots, venom like snakes, and a radula (comparable to a tongue) covered with teeth. They can taste with all of their skin, and the suckers on their appendages are intricately designed to elaborate on both taste and touch. Just like humans have a dominant hand (righties rock!), octopuses have one dominant eye. One of their defense mechanisms is the ability to spurt ink. But even among all of these fantastic characteristics, one of the octopus’s most fascinating attributes is its ability to change shapes and colors.
In less than a second, an octopus can change its color and texture, blending into its surroundings so well that predators passing by have no idea that there’s an octopus in the vicinity. They are capable of creating color-matched patterns that blend in with any object that is nearby. If an octopus is taking a casual afternoon swim and a hungry shark approaches, the octopus can quickly float onto some nearby sand and rocks and become perfectly camouflaged in the blink of an eye. The most fascinating part of this ability is that octopuses change their skin color and texture based on sight, not on feeling—even though they are colorblind!
How do they do this? The way an octopus can change colors has been compared to a dye-filled balloon. If you were to hold the balloon in your hand and squeeze, the dye would be pushed to the top, stretching the surface of the balloon and making the color appear brighter. Octopuses have thousands of color-changing cells called chromatophores underneath the surface of their skin. These cells have centers full of color—black, brown, orange, red or yellow. Whenever an octopus needs to change its skin tone, these color centers expand, making that particular color more vibrant and visible.
Sometimes, an octopus needs to blend into something that has distinct shapes and angles, like coral. In addition to turning the same vivid hue that the coral displays, the octopus can create a texture on its skin that matches the surface of the coral by changing the size of the papillae (small, round bumps) on its skin. It can create textures to blend in with its background that range from tiny bumps to tall barbs, resulting in disguises that render the octopus almost completely invisible.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in the Arctic tundra, a small, white fox steps out of its burrow into frigid temperatures to search for its next meal. It may be cute and fluffy, but everything about the arctic fox ensures that it is well suited for the freezing climate. For example, it has fur-covered paws that reduce heat loss and enable it to walk on ice better.
In order to survive the harsh conditions they live in, arctic foxes were created to have compact bodies, short legs, short ears and small snouts to reduce the amount of surface area that is exposed to the elements. They have long tails that not only aid in balance, but can also be curled around their bodies and face to protect them from the cold. Don’t let their adorable little ears fool you either; arctic foxes have remarkably good hearing and can locate the precise location of their next meal beneath the snow. When it has located a hibernating critter under the snow, the fox will jump into the air and dive into the snow, collapsing the top layer and landing on top of its prey.
The arctic fox’s camouflage is quite a bit less complicated than that of the octopus—but it is nevertheless important. As mentioned before, the fox’s deep, thick fur plays a vital role in its survival. It enables the fox to maintain a consistent body temperature, helping it to survive in temperatures as low as -58 degrees Fahrenheit. Arctic foxes don’t get even chilled until the temperature drops to -94 degrees! But more than being the best fur coat ever, their coats also act as camouflage throughout the different seasons.
During the winter months, arctic foxes have pure white coats that allow them to blend into the endless snow and ice. When the weather changes and becomes warmer, so does the fox’s coat. It turns either brown or gray, blending into the rocks and plants that are exposed by the melting snow. These changes in color help the foxes to effectively hunt year-round—whether it is small mammals hiding in the snow during the winter, or birds, eggs and fish during the summer months. Sometimes, the foxes will follow around polar bears during the winter and scavenge what they don’t eat—and their winter coat makes sure they stay out of sight while doing so.
Even though the camouflage of the arctic fox is quite a bit simpler than that of the octopus, both are stunning testaments to the detailed thought that went into crafting these creatures. Although these animals live very different lives, they share a fascinating characteristic that proves vital for both of them. And while one is a land-dweller and one inhabits the ocean, they both have similarities that point back to the awesome talent of the Almighty God.