Meet nature's real-life shapeshifting superheroes

What if humans could do it, too?


Shapeshifting is a classic superhero skill.

There’s X-Men’s Mystique, DC’s Clayface, Martian Manhunter, and Beast Boy, Marvel’s Ms. Marvel, and more.


Could this kind of shape-shifting be possible in real life?


There’s one group of animals that gets pretty close: Cephalopods.

Squids, octopuses, and cuttlefish can all change the color of their skin in the blink of an eye.

They do this using thousands of cells under their skin called chromatophores, says squid expert Diana Li.


These chromatophores are like tiny sacs of pigment that come in a few different colors, like red, brown, or yellow. By expanding and contracting these sacs, cephalopods can create complicated patterns on their skin.

Octopus have another shape-shifting talent: they can actually change the texture of their skin. They do this with papillae, small sections of their skin that can be deformed.

Li says that octopuses are such good shapeshifters because they have no bones.

“And so they can just contort the entire body into whatever posture they need,” with any color or texture, Li says.

Getting back to those comic book heroes...What if humans could shapeshift?


If a human were to be a good shapeshifter, she’d need to be a lot more flexible...perhaps boneless like an octopus, Li says.

It’s one thing to change your skin texture like Mystique, but to truly shapeshift, a person would also need to change the shape of their body as well.

20th Century Fox


And if humans were shapeshifters, we’d have to have “way bigger eyes,” she says.


Because shapeshifting is used for camouflage or deceit — we’d have to evolve much better sight to pick out a shape-shifted person.

Maybe one day we'll evolve shapeshifting abilities, but for now, we can leave that talent to the superheroes.



Read more about superheroes here.

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