Squids Can Communicate By Using Sign Language

Discovery
Squids Can Communicate By Using Sign Language PHOTOGRAPH: Flickr/Christopher Cacho | Under CC BY 2.0

Squids are pretty fascinating creatures – what with their long twisted tentacles, astonishing body mass and ability to squirt ink. But little did people know that their brain is just as brilliant as their physiological uniqueness. Chuan-Chin Chiao, a neuroscientist at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, has discovered that squids can communicate through their own brand of sign language.

How Do Squids Communicate?

But unlike human being, whose sign language requires the use of limbs, Squids communicate with others of its species by changing the color of their skin. Every skin color is a special code that lets the other squids know what it is trying to say. Scientists have yet to decode what each skin color means. Their skin color can alternate between stripes and bands or some solid dark or light color.

Chiao got the inspiration for diving into such an unusual research from physiologist B. B. Boycott and neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, reported Wired. Boycott discovered back in 1960s that the cuttlefish could control the color of their skin through their brains. Similarly, Penfield was known for treating epilepsy patients by burning portions of their brains which showed signs of disorientation. This also made it easier for him to operate on the grey matter of the brains.

Penfield also came across the information regarding the anatomy of humans that made him understand the central nervous system better. After several tests he concluded that human brain was a miniature map of its body. Stimulating a specific part of the brain causes the body part linked to that area to react accordingly.

Squids Are Different From Humans

However, when it comes to a cephalopod’s nervous system, Chiao found it to be vastly different than the way a normal human brain functions. “When we finished the experiment,” said Chiao, “we looked at the data and it was really puzzling.” Whether he poked the left region of its optic lobe, or the right, the skin color of the squid always seemed to turn black.

After Chiao and his student wracked their brains for a pretty long time, they finally understood the mystery. The pigment cells on the squid’s body were covered with layers of muscles. Hence, when certain areas of the squid’s brain were stimulated it affected the muscles to either expand or contract. This caused it to either grow dark or appeared striped.

“Their (the squids’) body plan is so bizarre compared to ours that it’s hard to compare their brain structure and function to something that we know,” remarked Roger Hanlon, a marine biologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. However, he hopes that a day would come when scientists are able to make a more detailed assumption of how a squid communicates. Chiao is already trying to figure out what different skin colors of a squid means to the other squids that it is trying to communicate with.

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