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Kings of Camouflage - NOVA Special, 4/3/2007

Tuesday, APRIL 3, 2007 at 8 PM ET/PT on PBS: NOVA takes viewers down deep to discover the cuttlefish - a color-changing, shape-shifting master of disguise

Boston, MA – Join NOVA on a voyage beneath the waves, where you’ll meet a bizarre but remarkable creature. It has eight sucker-covered arms growing out of its head, three hearts pumping its blue blood, and a doughnut-shaped brain. Its most striking trait is an uncanny ability to change color and shape to blend in with seaweed and rocks. Thanks to a highly complex brain, this animal has smarts, too. Underwater cameras capture the extraordinary, transformative powers of the cuttlefish in NOVA’s Kings of Camouflage, premiering Tuesday, April 3, 2007 at 8pm ET/PT on PBS (check local listings).

Despite its name, the cuttlefish is not a fish but a cousin of the more familiar octopus and squid. Together they are a part of the class of marine molluscs called cephalopods, or “head-footers.” These are soft-bodied animals without a protective outer shell or spine. Cuttlefish intrigue researchers with their splendid displays, their intelligence, and social behavior. Of all the invertebrates, they have one of the highest brain-to-body ratios.

In Kings of Camouflage, Dr. Jean Boal of Millersville University in Pennsylvania shows viewers how well and how fast cuttlefish can learn. She creates a special maze to assess the cuttlefish’s ability to figure out the right escape route. They are not only able to learn the rules of finding the open exit, they can repeat their success trial after trial. Dr. Mark Norman, a marine biologist and senior curator from Australia’s Museum Victoria, has been studying cuttlefish for over twenty years, curious to understand their spectacular changing colors, patterns, light shows, and shapes. The change in shape or color camouflages the cuttlefish amidst the reef, protecting it from predators.

So how do cuttlefish actually practice their visual pyrotechnics? At the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, Dr. Roger Hanlon shares some cuttlefish secrets: It’s all about specialized layers of skin cells. The top layer holds pigmented cells that provide most of the yellow, red, and brown patterning. By flexing its muscles, by pushing out some layers and pulling in others, the cuttlefish reveals various groups of pigmented cells. A deeper layer of iridescent reflecting cells in blue, green, red, and pink above a white base complete the palette.

Kings of Camouflage, starts by introducing NOVA viewers to the elusive Broadband cuttlefish, known for its particularly flashy light shows. To discern what makes a cuttlefish switch on its colors, marine biologists present the animals with various lures, including small crabs and a toy lobster. NOVA then introduces viewers to several other kinds of cuttlefish—including the tiny Flamboyant cuttlefish. The size of an egg, this cuttlefish walks rather than swims.

Next Kings of Camouflage moves to the Giant Australian cuttlefish. Off the south coast of Australia, groups of them congregate to breed every autumn. This is a gathering of brawn, brains, and sneaky tactics. Smaller males, who cannot compete physically with their larger counterparts, have developed a cunning way to reach their desired mate. These male cuttlefish dress up as females. They pull in their arms, change their colors to a mottled pattern, and glide by the larger males. The cuttlefish in disguise seek out the females and usually manage to mate. According to Dr. Hanlon, the picky Giant cuttlefish females respond well to the cross-dressing trick. Surprisingly, the cross-dressers’ sperm is more likely to be fertilized by the females then the larger male’s sperm.

Dive into NOVA’s underwater world to visit the “Kings of Camouflage” and learn about the cuttlefish, one of the world’s most unusual and fascinating creatures.

Now in its 34th year of broadcasting, NOVA is produced for PBS by the WGBH Science Unit at WGBH Boston. The director of the WGBH Science Unit and senior executive producer of NOVA is Paula S. Apsell. Funding for NOVAis provided by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and public television viewers.

NOVA is closed captioned for deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers and described for people who are blind or visually impaired by the Media Access Group at WGBH. The descriptive narration is available on the SAP channel or stereo TVs and VCRs. Kings of Camouflage will be available on DVD wherever videos are sold. To order direct from WGBH Boston Video, visit or call 800.949.8670.

Production Credits
Senior Executive Producer Paula S. Aspell
“Cuttlefish: The Brainy Bunch” by Kaufmann Productions
Written, Produced & Directed by Gisela Kaufmann, P.G.A.
“Kings of Camouflage” Produced for NOVA by Julia Cort
A film by Gisela Kaufmann & Carsten Orlt
Presented by

@ WGBH Educational Foundation

Created by liquid
Last modified 2007-03-28 15:29 expired