The Hawaiian bobtail squid is known to have a close relationship with a particular species of bacteria that lives within the squid. The bacteria are naturally bioluminescent, which is hypothesized to benefit the squid through counter-illumination.

According to a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) BioInteractive:

Camouflage experts in the United States Air Force have studied the symbiotic relationship between the bobtail squid and Vibrio fischeri.

And a similarly worded sentence from the Monterey Bay Aquarium:

Materials science experts in the U.S. Air Force have studied the symbiotic relationship between the squid and its bacteria to see if the reflective qualities could be used to improve their aircraft camouflage.

This claim can also be found on oceanconservancy.org, phys.org, and other websites.

While I don't doubt that the military has experimented with counter-illumination, it's less clear to me that the US Air Force has studied the Hawaiian bobtail squid specifically. Is there any evidence to support the HHMI claim?

  • Looks good to me.
    – fredsbend
    Mar 22, 2021 at 14:54
  • Thanks @fredsbend! Could you offer a second opinion on the answer? Am I reading it wrong? Mar 30, 2021 at 5:06

1 Answer 1


This paper discusses the investigation involved, and three of its authors were with AFRL, so unless the Journal of Polymer Science is joining up with dtic.mil to scam us all for some unfathomable reason, it looks as though the claim is correct.

  • Thanks for the answer! Apologies I have not logged on in nearly 5 days. Nice find on the paper! I didn't know the Hawaiian bobtail squid have reflective platelets, which is what the paper you found is about. Unfortunately, the paper doesn't mention the bacteria (Vibrio fischeri) at all. If the claim was "Camouflage experts in the United States Air Force have studied reflective platelets from the bobtail squid." this would be a perfect answer. (Do you think you could find other papers and edit your answer? Also curious how you found this one!) Mar 27, 2021 at 16:09
  • Just wanted to point out that this doesn't actually address the claim as the paper does not have anything to do with the symbiotic relationship between the bobtail squid and Vibrio fischeri, but instead looked at platelets (a protein) from the Hawaiian bobtail squid Mar 30, 2021 at 5:05
  • researchgate.net/profile/Wendy-Goodson, one of the AFRL authors, lists other papers looking at the relationship between Euprymna scolopes and Vibrio fischeri. I'm not a Researchgate subscriber, but it wasn't clear to me from the teasers that they attempted to apply it to camoflage. However, it wouldn't be surprising that there was some overlap between the projects, or that people who they worked with on both projects conflated the two efforts. Mar 30, 2021 at 19:04
  • Thanks for your comment, upon which I further looked into Wendy Crookes-Goodson. There are 4 hits for "Vibrio" on the researchgate profile you linked (3 in 1 paper and 1 in another). Both full texts can be readily found online and both don't mention camouflage. Additionally, Wendy Crookes-Goodson's affiliation during the time of both papers was not the ARFL but the University of Hawaii, Manoa and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I looked up Wendy Crookes-Goodson on Google Scholar and did not find additional papers that have "Vibrio" in the title. Therefore, this seems to be a dead end. Apr 1, 2021 at 3:42
  • Similar searches for the two other ARFL-affiliated authors (Patrick B. Dennis and Rajesh R. Naik) on ResearchGate and Google Scholar do not return any relevant results. Apr 1, 2021 at 3:48

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