White reflection from cuttlefish skin leucophores. Academic Article uri icon


  • The highly diverse and changeable body patterns of cephalopods require the production of whiteness of varying degrees of brightness for their large repertoire of communication and camouflage behaviors. Leucophores are structural reflectors that produce whiteness in cephalopods; they are dermal aggregates of numerous leucocytes containing spherical leucosomes ranging in diameter from 200-2000?nm. In Sepia officinalis leucophores, leucocytes always occur in various combinations with iridocytes, cells containing plates that function as Bragg stacks to reflect light of particular wavelengths. Both spheres and plates contain the high-refractive-index protein reflectin. Four leucophore skin-patterning components were investigated morphologically and with spectrometry. In descending order of brightness they are: white fin spots, White zebra bands, White square, and White head bar. Different densities, thicknesses and proportions of leucocytes and iridocytes were correlated with the relative brightness measurements of the skin. That is, White fin spots and White zebra bands had leucocytes of the highest density, the greatest number of reflective cell layers, and the highest proportion of leucocytes to iridocytes. In contrast, the White square and White head bar had the lowest density of reflective cells, fewer cell layers and the lowest ratios of leucocytes to iridocytes. Leucophores are white in white light, yet reflect whatever colors are in the available light field: e.g. red in red light, green in green light, etc. Leucophores are physiologically passive, thus their ultrastructure alone is capable of diffusing all ambient wavelengths in all directions, regardless of the angle of incident light. However, the specific optical contributions of spherical leucosomes versus the associated plate-like iridosomes in producing whiteness versus brightness are yet to be determined. This study reveals complex morphological arrangements that produce white structural coloration for different brightnesses of skin by differentially combining spheres and plates.

publication date

  • March 20, 2018