Cell and Tissue Research

, Volume 205, Issue 2, pp 167–186

Reflector cells in the skin of Octopus dofleini

  • Steven L. Brocco
  • Richard A. Cloney


The cells that form the reflecting layer beneath the chromatophore organs of the octopus are conspicuous elements of its dermal chromatic system. Each flattened, ellipsoidal reflector cell in this layer bears thousands of peripherally radiating, discoidal, reflecting lamellae. Each lamella consists of a proteinaceous reflecting platelet enveloped by the plasmalemma. The lamellae average 90 nm in thickness and have variable diameters with a maximum of about 1.7 μm. Sets of reflecting lamellae are organized into functional units called reflectosomes. The lamellae in each reflectosome form a parallel array - similar to a stack of coins. The average number of lamellae in a reflectosome is 11. Adjacent lamellae are uniformly separated by an extracellular gap of about 60 nm in embedded specimens. The reflectosomes are randomly disposed over the surface of the reflector cell.

The observed organization of the reflectosome is compatible with its role as a quarter-wave thin-film interference device. The alternating reflecting lamellae and interlamellar spaces constitute layers of high and low refractive indices. Using measurements of the thicknesses and refractive indices of the platelets and interlamellar spaces, we have calculated that the color of reflected light should be blue ⊔reen, as seen in vivo.

The sequence of events leading to the definitive arrangement of the reflectosomes is uncertain.

The reflector cells of O. dofleini are compared and contrasted with the iridophores of squid.

Key words

Octopus Integument Reflector cells Cephalopods Iridophores 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arnold, J.: Organellogenesis of the cephalopod iridophore: Cytomerabranes in development. J. Ultrastruct. Res. 20, 410–421 (1967)Google Scholar
  2. Arnold, J.M., Young, R.E., King, M.U.: Ultrastructure of a cephalopod photophore. II. Iridophores as reflectors and transmitters. Biol. Bull. 147, 522–534 (1974)Google Scholar
  3. Barer, R., Joseph, S.: Refractometry of Living Cells. Part I. Basic Principles. Quart. J. Micro. Sci. 95, 399–423 (1954)Google Scholar
  4. Boll, F.: Beiträge zur vergleichenden Histologie des Molluskentypus. Arch. mikr. Anat. 5, (Suppl.) 1–111 (1869)Google Scholar
  5. Bone, Q., Denton, E.J.: The osmotic effects of electron microscopic fixatives. J. Cell Biol. 49, 571–581 (1971)Google Scholar
  6. Boyde, A.: Pros and cons of critical point drying and freeze drying for SEM. In: Scanning Electron Microscopy/1978/11 (Becker, R.P. and Johari, O. eds.) pp. 303–314. O'Hare, Ill.: Scanning Electron Microscopy Inc. (1978)Google Scholar
  7. Brocco, S.L.: The fine structure of the frontal and mantle white spots Octopus dofleini. Am. Zool. 15, 782 (1975)Google Scholar
  8. Brocco, S.L.: The ultrastructure of the epidermis, dermis, iridophores, leucophores and chromatophores of Octopus dofleini martini (Cephalopoda: Octopoda). Ph. D. Thesis, University of Washington, Seattle 1977Google Scholar
  9. Cloney, R.A., Florey, E.: Ultrastructure of cephalopod chromatophore organs. Z. Zellforsch. 89, 250–280 (1968)Google Scholar
  10. Denton, E.J.: Review lecture on the organization of reflecting surfaces in some marine animals. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond. B. 258, 285–313 (1970)Google Scholar
  11. Denton, E.J., Nicol, J.A.C.: Studies on reflexion of light from silvery surfaces of fish, with special reference to the bleak, Alburnus alburnus. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. U.K. 45, 683–703 (1965a)Google Scholar
  12. Denton, E.J., Nicol, J.A.C.: Polarization of light reflected from the silvery exterior of the bleak, Alburnus alburnus. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. U.K. 45, 705–709 (1965b)Google Scholar
  13. Denton, E.J., Nicol, J.A.C.: Reflexion of light by external surfaces of the herring Clupea harengus. J. Mar. Biol. Ass. U.K. 45, 711–738 (1965c)Google Scholar
  14. Denton, E.J., Land, M.F.: Optical properties of the lamellae causing interference colours in animal reflectors. J. Physiol. Lond. 191, 23P-24P (1967)Google Scholar
  15. Denton, E.J., Land, M.F.: Mechanism of reflexion in silvery layers of fish and cephalopods. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. A. 178, 43–61 (1971)Google Scholar
  16. Dilly, P.N., Herring, P.J.: The ocular light organ of Bathothauma lyromma (Mollusca: Cephalopoda). J. Zool. Lond. 172, 81–100 (1974)Google Scholar
  17. Fox, D.L.: Animal biochromes and structural colors. Los Angeles: University of California Press 1976Google Scholar
  18. Froesch, D., Messenger, J.B.: On leucophores and the chromatic unit of Octopus vulgaris. J. Zool. Lond. 186, 163–173 (1978)Google Scholar
  19. Fuchs, R.F.: Der Farbenwechsel und die chromatische Hautfunktion der Tiere. In: Handbuch der vergleichenden Physiologie (Winterstein, H. ed.), pp. 1189–1656, Jena: Fischer 1914Google Scholar
  20. Girod, P.: Recherches sur la peau des céphalopodes. Arch. Zool. Exp. Gen. II. Ser. 1, 225–266 (1883)Google Scholar
  21. Huxley, A.F.: A theoretical treatment of the reflexion of light by multilayer structures. J. Exp. Biol. 48, 227–245 (1968)Google Scholar
  22. Kawaguti, S., Ohgishi, S.: Electron microscopic study on iridophores of a cuttlefish, Sepia esculenta. Biol. J. Okayama University 8, 115–129 (1962)Google Scholar
  23. Keller, C.: Struktur der Haut der Cephalopoden. Z. Naturwiss. 10, 385–389 (1874)Google Scholar
  24. Land, M.F.: The physics and biology of animal reflectors. Prog. Biophys. Molecular Biol. 24, 77–106 (1972)Google Scholar
  25. Luft, J.H.: Improvements in epoxy resin embedding methods. J. Biophys. Biochem. Cytol. 9, 409–414 (1961)Google Scholar
  26. Messenger, J.B.: Reflecting elements in cephalopod skin and their importance for camouflage. J. Zool. Lond. 174, 387–395 (1974)Google Scholar
  27. Mirow, S.: Skin color in the squids Loligo pealii and Loligo opalescens. I. Chromatophores. Z. Zellforsch. 125, 143–175 (1972a)Google Scholar
  28. Mirow, S.: Skin color in the squids Loligo pealii and Loligo opalescens. II. Iridophores. Z. Zellforsch. 125, 176–190 (1972b)Google Scholar
  29. Müller, H.: Bericht über einige im Herbste 1852 in Messina angestellte, vergleichend-anatomische Untersuchungen. Zeitschrift f. wissensch. Zool. 4, 299–370 (1853)Google Scholar
  30. Packard, A.: Cephalopods and fish: The limits of convergence. Biol. Rev. 47, 241–307 (1972)Google Scholar
  31. Packard, A., Sanders, G.: What the octopus shows to the world. Endeavour 28, 92–99 (1969)Google Scholar
  32. Packard, A., Sanders, G.D.: Body patterns of Octopus vulgaris and maturation of the response to disturbance. Anim. Behav. 19, 780–790 (1971)Google Scholar
  33. Packard, A., Hochberg, F.G.: Skin patterning in Octopus and other genera. Symp. Zool. Soc. Lond. 38, 191–231 (1977)Google Scholar
  34. Parker, G.H.: Animal colour changes and their neurohumors. Cambridge: University Press 1948Google Scholar
  35. Rabl, H.: Über Bau und Entwicklung der Chromatophoren der Cephalopoden, nebst allgemeinen Bemerkungen über die Haut dieser Tiere. S.B. Akad. Wiss. Wien, Math.-Nat. Kl. 109, 341–404 (1900)Google Scholar
  36. Reynolds, E.S.: The use of lead citrate at high pH as an electron-opaque stain in electron microscopy. J. Cell Biol. 17, 208–212 (1963)Google Scholar
  37. Richardson, K.C., L. Jarett, Finke, E.H.: Embedding in epoxy resins for ultrathin sectioning in electron microscopy. Stain Technol. 35, 313–323 (1960)Google Scholar
  38. Ross, K.F.A.: Phase contrast and interference microscopy for cell biologists. New York: St. Martin's Press 1967Google Scholar
  39. Schäfer, W.: Bau, Entwicklung und Farbenentstehung bei den Flitterzellen von Sepia officinalis. Z. Zellforsch. 27, 222–245 (1938)PubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Young, R.E.: Ventral bioluminescent countershading in midwater cephalopods. Symp. Zool. Soc. Lond. 38, 161–190 (1977)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven L. Brocco
    • 1
  • Richard A. Cloney
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Oral Biology SB-22University of WashingtonSeattleUSA

Personalised recommendations