Tag Archives: Mairia Cahill

News Ireland daily BLOG

The ruling on Irish Water is a minor setback?

   

The Health Minister Leo Varadkar’s description of the EU’s surprise ruling on Irish Water as a “minor setback” has come under fire for being out of touch with reality.

The utility’s plans for massive borrowing were thrown into disarray when the agency Eurostat insisted it was not independent of Government debt.

The ruling meant money raised on the markets in order to finance an ambitious repair programme would have to be lumped in with State debt.

However, Mr Varadkar insisted this was just a “relatively minor setback.”

Clare TD Michael McNamara — who hopes to stand again as a Labour candidate in the general election despite having the whip taken away from him for voting against Government policy on the Aer Lingus sell-off — warned Mr Varadkar was not facing facts.

“He is absolutely wrong. The only way you could take that view is if you were looking at the HSE everyday, then Irish Water might seem fine to you.

“Eurostat basically said this is doing nothing new, Irish Water is controlled by the State, and the Government is meddling in it,” Mr McNamara said.

Mr Varadkar claimed Eurostat would reverse its decision next year when more people had paid up.

“It’s still a work in progress. There’s no doubt that Eurostat’s decision was a setback. It’s probably a temporary one though,” Mr Varadkar said.

“I think Irish Water is the right thing to do. First of all because metering allows us to identify leaks and actually fix them now; it also promotes conservation, people using less water; it’s giving us the revenue stream that we need to invest more in water infrastructure which was neglected for decades.

“What’s gone against us is the way we account for it in public accounts and as I say that can change next year. As you know 48% of people have paid already and I do think that will rise.”

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Barry Cowen said the Irish taxpayer was €785m worse off because of Irish Water.

“When the Government unveiled the Water Conservation Grant last year it was clearly designed to try and help Irish Water pass the Eurostat test. This plan has backfired spectacularly,” he said.

“The Government is wasting €5m per annum on administrating the Water Conservation Grant. This is money which could be spent on improving water infrastructure, but instead it is being spent on a pointless grant which has failed in its key objective of helping Irish Water pass the Eurostat test.

“The fact is that not an extra cent is being spent on water infrastructure above the €500m per annum Fianna Fáil spent in Government. The establishment of Irish Water has been a costly mistake for Irish taxpayers. The super quango is swallowing vast quantities of public money on a daily basis while giving little in return when it comes to improving the quality of our water infrastructure.

“Just what exactly is the purpose of the Water Conservation Grant considering it is unlikely to lead to water conservation and has not led to Irish Water passing the Eurostat test?

“Irish Water is set to cost the Government up to €70m this year alone. It is time to abolish the super quango instead of throwing more good money after bad,” Mr Cowen said.

Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty demanded more transparency on Irish Water’s finances.

Maíria Cahill calls on Dublin to examine abuse claims

 

Mairia Cahill who was abused by senior IRA man and later subjected to a ‘kangaroo court’.

Maíria Cahill arriving for talks with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at Government Buildings last year,

Maíria Cahill is calling for Dublin to appoint a legal expert to investigate the alleged cover up of the sexual abuse of children.

Ms. Cahill was speaking at the Gerry Conlon memorial lecture entitled “Justice for Victims of Abuse” she delivered on Saturday evening at St Mary’s University College on the Falls Road in west Belfast, as part of Féile an Phobail.

The festival event, chaired by SDLP MLA Alex Attwood, was organised to explore how victims can be let down by the justice system and their own communities.

Ms Cahill came to public attention during a BBC Spotlight programme where she alleged she had been sexually abused by a senior IRA figure and later subjected to a “kangaroo court” investigation by republicans.

The west Belfast woman, whose great-uncle Joe Cahill was one of the founders of the Provisional IRA, pursued the matter through the courts but the case collapsed when she withdrew her evidence after losing faith in the Public Prosecution Service.

In May, a report by Kier Starmer – former chief of the Crown Prosecution Service, now a Labour MP – concluded it was “almost inevitable” that Ms Cahill, and two other alleged victims decided to withdraw their evidence. Following the publication of the independent review the director of the PPS in the North, Barra McGrory, apologised to the three women.

“My case isn’t unique and I know this from speaking to people since I went public,” she told the Féile audience of around 100 people on Saturday.

“I am now calling on the Irish government to put in place, without delay, a person of legal standing to conduct a special investigatory report, more commonly known as a scoping exercise, to help uncover the IRA and Sinn Féin members actions when it came to the cover up of child sexual abuse.”

She added: “There are many victims of abuse who never make it to the media to tell of their experiences.

“Those victims hurt just as much and in some cases more by suffering in silence but when victims and survivors go public we know that, as in my case, calls to rape crisis centres increases and other victims feel compelled to speak out about their cases.

“We should always encourage them to do so.”

Ms Cahill was critical of the criminal justice system, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and other party figures, members of her extended family and elements of the republican community.

She claimed Sinn Féin could not speak with credibility on the issue of child sexual abuse until it went beyond addressing sexual abuse by republicans in general terms.

“They need to admit that the IRA investigated my abuse against my wishes,” she said.

“They need to confirm explicitly that I was brought into a room with my rapist and three individuals from the IRA and that is my bottom line.

“And until they admit that they can never speak credibly on the issue of child sexual abuse again.”

Ms Cahill spoke of a “cover up” and also said that before and since speaking publicly about her life experience she had been made aware of allegations of people being raped at gunpoint and threatened with death, as well as alleged abusers being “moved on without a thought for the next child”.

Following the event Ms Cahill told The Irish Times some IRA members were among the audience at St Mary’s. “They kept themselves fairly quiet,” she said. “They will bring it back again. That’s the way it goes.”

She also said speaking at Féile had helped “lay ghosts to rest” and brought her some comfort. “It was important to do,” she said.

Being a perfectionist may stress you out!

  

Perfectionists who constantly worry about making mistakes and letting others down may sabotage their success at work, and even develop health problems, a new study has found.

In the first meta-analysis of the relationship between perfectionism and burnout, researchers analysed the findings from 43 previous studies conducted over the past 20 years.

They found that concerns about perfectionism can sabotage success at work, school or on the playing field, leading to stress, burnout and potential health problems.

Researchers, however, said that perfectionism is not all bad. One aspect of perfectionism called “perfectionistic strivings” involves the setting of high personal standards and working toward those goals in a pro-active manner.

These efforts may help maintain a sense of accomplishment and delay the debilitating effects of burnout, the study found.

The dark side of perfectionism, called “perfectionistic concerns,” can be more detrimental when people constantly worry about making mistakes, letting others down, or not measuring up to their own impossibly high standards, said lead researcher Andrew Hill, an associate professor of sport psychology at York St John University in England.

Previous research has shown that perfectionistic concerns and the stress they generate can contribute to serious health problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, fatigue and even early mortality.

“Perfectionistic concerns capture fears and doubts about personal performance, which creates stress that can lead to burnout when people become cynical and stop caring,” Hill said.

“It also can interfere with relationships and make it difficult to cope with setbacks because every mistake is viewed as a disaster,” Hill said.

The study found that perfectionistic concerns had the strongest negative effects in contributing to burnout in the workplace, possibly because people have more social support and clearly defined objectives in education and sports.

“People need to learn to challenge the irrational beliefs that underlie perfectionistic concerns by setting realistic goals, accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and forgiving themselves when they fail,” Hill said.

“Creating environments where creativity, effort and perseverance are valued also would help,” Hill said.

Most people display some characteristics of perfectionism in some aspect of their lives, but perfectionistic strivings or concerns may be more dominant.

The development of a personality profile that identifies perfectionistic concerns might be a valuable tool in detecting and helping individuals who are prone to burnout, the study noted.

The future kitchen in an age of scarcity

  

Americans these days line up to buy iPhones, but half a century ago, they were flocking to see gleaming, futuristic prototypes of kitchen appliances. General Motors’ Kitchen of Tomorrow, part of a traveling exposition of the company’s products, featured an Ultrasonic Dishwasher and an Electro Recipe File.

Cooking technology was a matter of geopolitical importance. President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev argued about whose nation had better dishwashers during the president’s 1959 visit to Moscow.

Things that seem mundane now excited our parents and grandparents’ imaginations. Their enthusiasm is understandable:

Rapid technological progress had made their lives easier, as new inventions eliminated hours and hours of menial labor. Many of them would have been used to hauling and chopping firewood for cooking. Stoves and electricity gradually entered U.S. homes over the first half of the 20th century, according to data compiled by W. Michael Cox and Richard Alm in The New York Times. The refrigerator transformed the American kitchen even more quickly, replacing the icebox. In 1930, fewer than 10 percent of households had a refrigerator. Nearly all did by 1960.

Since the introduction of the microwave in the 1970s and 1980s, though, kitchens have changed little, despite the advertisers’ promises. Industrial designers are still thinking about the future of the kitchen, but the contrasts between their prototypes and older ones show how much Americans’ outlook has darkened.

A case in point is IKEA’s Concept Kitchen 2025, which went on display earlier this year in Milan. The designers incorporated a 40 percent increase in the cost of food into their prototypes, along with constraints on energy, water and living space. They wonder whether the world will be able to sustain its eating habits, especially its taste for meat. General Electric’s designers had similar concerns in mind when they unveiled a model kitchen two years ago. Instead of a world of leisure, these corporations are preparing for a hungry, thirsty, crowded future.

The Swedish furniture manufacturer collaborated with design students and the design firm IDEO to design a sink that separates wastewater for the sewer from gray water for reused for washing dishes and irrigation. Their miniature refrigerators communicate with transmitters printed on the food’s packaging to regulate the temperature, so that the appliances don’t waste energy keeping food inside colder than necessary.

Like the Kitchen of Tomorrow of an earlier generation, some aspects of IKEA’s Concept Kitchen seem disconnected from real cooking. The most precious resource in any household isn’t food or water, but time. Convenience is an important reason that families eat so much meat and processed food, even though they require more resources to produce and are more expensive as a result. Vegetables require soaking, washing and careful planning — they don’t keep well, no matter how intelligent your refrigerator. If they spoil, a family will have to make another trip to the grocery store.

And a kitchen that is designed to help save money on food, water and energy might not change the kinds of foods that families buy, unless the design saves them time as well. Research and survey data suggest that families with more material resources do not spend much more on produce than those with less means.

IKEA’s answer to this problem is the digitized “Table for Living,” which uses a camera to identify ingredients placed on it and suggests recipes. The design seems about as useful as General Motors’ Electro Recipe File. Looking up a recipe online might be easier, or even just using the index in a cookbook. And the designers expect that drones will solve the problem of fresh produce by delivering groceries quickly and in minutes, which is optimistic.

That said, one crucial point of progress is evident in IKEA’s kitchen. American manufacturers previously assumed that women would be the ones using their prototypes in the kitchen, and women were the targets of their advertising. “What we want to do is to make more easy the life of our housewives,” Nixon told Khrushchev, who denigrated “the capitalist attitude toward women.” IKEA’s design, by contrast, imagines the kitchen as a place that members of the family share, with parents working from home.

Refrigerators and dishwashers made women’s drudgery in the kitchen obsolete. Yet economists argue that instead of spending that extra time with their children or twirling around in dance shoes, as commercials from the period implied, women instead entered the workforce.

Economists debate how technology will change the ways we spend our time in the future. Some say that technology is saving us more time than ever, even if the changes are hard to measure. Others argue that the most important inventions — the ones that, along with changes in the law and the culture, allowed women to work outside the home — are all in the past. On this view, our children’s lives will resemble our own more than our grandparents’ lives resembled our great-grandparents’, and the kitchens of 2025 might not look that different from those of 1985. And we won’t be well equipped to deal with the environmental challenges reflected in IKEA’s design.

Beluga whale seen off County Antrim coast near Dunseverick

    

Marine researchers have said a beluga whale has been sighted off the County Antrim coast near Dunseverick.

It is believed to be the first time the Arctic species has been recorded in Northern Irish waters.

Dr Peter Evans, director of the Seawatch Foundation, said a fall in sea temperatures could be why the whale strayed so far from its usual habitat.

“A beluga whale is extremely unusual,” he said.

“It’s the first record that we know for Northern Ireland and in fact there’s only been about a dozen in 50 years for the whole of Britain and Ireland.

“On the whole, over the last sort of 10 years, certainly the sea temperatures have been generally warming, but at the same time there have been a number of anomalies where you’ve got actually significantly cooler waters and that seems to be the case here.”

There are just two records of beluga whales off the coast of the Republic of Ireland – one off Clare Island, County Mayo, in 1948 and another at Cobh, County Cork, in 1988.

“This is not the first arctic species to occur in Britain this year. Back in February, the first European sighting of a bowhead whale was captured on a smart phone in the Isles of Scilly,” Dr Evans said.

“In that instance it was thought that the fragmentation of floating ice may have resulted in whales typically associated with pack ice, straying much further south.

“Whether the same has occurred in the case of this beluga is not clear but sea temperatures have been unusually low this summer.”

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Friday 22nd May 2015

Big young people turnout pushes figures upwards over recent referendums

  • Polls shut at 10pm tonight as returning officers in Dublin expect 70% showing in some areas.

  

Polling stations are closed after the referendums and by-election in Ireland on May 22nd, 2015.

Campaigners for same-sex marriage believe the referendum will be carried on the back of the high turnouts in urban centres and massive engagement by younger voters.

Turnout for the same sex-marriage referendum and the referendum to reduce the age eligibility for presidential candidates was higher in urban areas on Friday night, but was generally up on voting in recent referendums across the country.

‘Bated breath’

“It is about how we value and treat the gay community in Ireland. So many human stories and so many families are caught up in this and are waiting with bated breath for the result.”

Just before polls closed, the average turnout across Dublin county was an estimated 65% and 53% in the Dublin city council area. Turnout in Cork city was above 60%.

However, in other areas of the State, initial turnout was in line with recent referendums, or only slightly up.

Kevin Humphreys, Labour TD for Dublin South East and Minister of State at the Department of Social Protection, said turnout was high across working class and middle class areas in his constituency.

Mr Humphreys also said turnout was exceeding levels seen at the last general election in 2011.

Returning officers in Dublin said they expected turnout to inch towards 70% or more in some areas.

In Dublin county, turnout in Skerries stood at 52% at 6pm and was expected to reach as high as 70%. In Brittas, also in Dublin, turnout was at 45% in the early evening.

There was also a high turnout of those on the supplementary register, with 80% of those who added themselves on the register turning out in Killester, Dublin, as of 8pm on Friday.

At 6pm, 65% of those who went on the supplementary register had cast their votes by 6.30pm, with a 50% turnout in the constituency at that time.

At 7pm the turnout across Cork city was above 40%, and rising to 50% in Cork South Central.

Turnout across Galway city was also up on its usual referendum standards and stood at about 35% in the early evening.

Rural areas in east Galway were not as busy, standing at 20% at the same time.

In Mayo, the turnout at 8pm in Castlebar was 46%, 47% in Claremorris, 50% in Westport and 40% in Ballina.

In Limerick city, turnout at 5pm was around 35% and almost 40% in Limerick count at the same time.

In Donegal town the turnout at tea time was 30%, with 28% turning out in Letterkenny at the same time.

Cavan Monaghan also reported an early evening turnout at about 30%, which rose to 35% in towns such as Ballyjamesduff, where there is a Dublin commuter population.

Officials in Tipperary reported turnout at 40% between 5pm and 6pm, a figure they expected to rise substantially before polls closed.

In Laois, the early evening turnout in both rural areas and in towns hovered around 30%.

In Kilkenny city – where voting is also taking place for a by-election – the turnout in some areas was 54% at 7pm.

In Kerry, turnout was also described as brisk and stood at around 30% at 5pm, which was higher than previous referendums.

Turnout across Wexford was at the same levels around teatime, but activity at polling stations was up on other referendums.

Maíria Cahill calls on Sinn Féin to accept report and to apologise

  • Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt says DPP Barra McGrory should ‘consider his position’

    

Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory apologises to three woman who accused an alleged IRA member of abusing them as children, after a damning report criticised how the prosecution was handled at the Public Prosecution Service offices in Belfast.

Maíria Cahill (above middle pic) has called on Sinn Féin to accept the findings of Sir Keir Starmer QC and to apologise to her.

Ms Cahill said she welcomed and accepted as genuine the apology issued to her by the North’s Director of Public Prosecution Barra McGrory over how the Public Prosecution Service dealt with allegations that as children, she and two other women were sexually abused by an IRA member.

In his damning report, Sir Keir issued 10 recommendations on how such cases might be avoided in the future. Mr McGrory accepted the report in full and said the recommendations would be implemented.

“The apology is welcome but I think what would be more meaningful is that the recommendations are quickly taken on board and implemented,” she said in Belfast after reading the 45-page report.

She also thanked the BBC Spotlightprogramme which broadcast an exposé on how she was allegedly raped by IRA manMartin Morris and how she was allegedly interrogated about her claims by four other members of the IRA.

“For the last seven months [since the BBCSpotlight documentary] I have been repeatedly trailed through the media, my credibility has been called into question, people have said I wasn’t prepared to give evidence in a court of law, that the not guilty verdicts somehow presented some sort of reasoning or attack on my credibility,” she continued. “I think this report completely vindicates my position.”

Badly treated by Sinn Fein?

Ms Cahill also said Sinn Féin had treated her badly since the story broke. She called on Sinn Féin to apologise and accept the report’s findings.

“The most disturbing thing for me in all of this is that the person who caused great hurt and trauma, not just to me but to his other victims, essentially was not prosecuted successfully,” she said.

“And also the other people who caused great hurt by forcing an IRA investigation into it. Had that IRA investigation not happened, we most likely would have been with the police making a criminal complaint long before we did.”

In a statement, Sinn Féin MLA Raymond McCartney said “it is the sole responsibility of the police to investigate reports of crime and it is the responsibility of the PPS to prosecute in cases of abuse.

“At the Assembly’s justice committee we have continually raised the unacceptable and unnecessary delays. We welcome any recommendations that will support victims of abuse through the legal system and ensure justice.

“We will judge the recommendations of the report on how they well they serve victims in the future.”

Ulster Unionist Party leader Mike Nesbitt said Mr McGrory should “consider his position” as DPP in light of the findings. “The buck stops with Barra McGrory and he should consider his position. It is simply not acceptable to try to wash his hands, Pontius Pilate-like, by claiming the case was opened before he took office or that he was not directly involved,” he said.

“He is a very well paid leader whose organisation has failed a victim who has taken terrible abuse for having the courage to publicly take on the IRA, without the support she deserved from the PPS,” Mr Nesbitt added.

Challenge anyone on abuse:

He said it was now essential that the Police Ombudsman Dr Michael Maguire published his review into the conduct of the police in the case.

West Belfast Assembly member Alex Attwood said the Starmer report was a “full vindication” for Ms Cahill.

“Maíria Cahill has demonstrated again and again that she will challenge anyone and any organisation when it comes to the truth of abuse,” he said.

“She does so on her own behalf. She also does so on behalf of other victims to ensure their voices are heard, their terrible experiences acknowledged and that accountability prevails.”

Traditional Unionist Voice party leader Jim Allister QC said: “As the politician who met with Barra McGrory QC and urged him to bring in an external investigator in regard to the PPS handling of the Maíria Cahill cases, I welcome the publication of the Starmer report.”

Retired GPs asked to join under-sixes scheme as they faces court challenge’s

  

Contracts have also been sent to GPs who do not have formal garda clearance to treat children and who exclusively treat patients with drug addiction problems

Retired family doctors are being asked to join the scheme offering free GP visits to children under six.

Contracts have also been sent to GPs who do not have formal Garda clearance to treat children and who exclusively treat patients with drug addiction problems.

The move comes amid ongoing resistance from hundreds of GPs to signing up to the July 1 scheme. Some GPs have described it as “morally wrong”.

A High Court action challenging the under-sixes contract is due to be lodged today by the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).

The legal test relates to the rule that GPs with existing patients under six who have a medical card or GP card will lose these contracts if they do not sign up to the free visits scheme by next week.

A spokesperson for the Health Service Executive (HSE) said it could not provide figures for how many doctors had signed up so far.

However, she confirmed that in addition to doctors with existing medical card patients, the HSE had written to GPs who had other health sector contracts. It is understood these would include contracts to treat drug abusers.

A small number of doctors who have retired from the medical card scheme have been written to as they are still on the medical register. It is a matter for each individual GP to decide whether to take up the contract.

Meanwhile, Dr Andrew Mannion of the Donegal Medical Centre said all GPs in Donegal town were signing the contracts “under duress”.

He said: “We feel compelled to sign the new contract as the HSE has threatened that if we do not, they will remove all our existing under-six medical card patients from our practices and assign them to a practice that has signed the new contract.”

The doctors argue that this would lead to “untold hardship and uncertainty for our patients”, who may have to travel a considerable distance to see a GP.

“It would lead to breakdown of the doctor-patient relationship that we have and break the continuity of care that we have traditionally provided as GPs,” Dr Mannion said.

“We believe that the new contract is morally wrong. We believe that scarce resources should be provided to patients with the greatest medical and financial needs.

“We believe for example that none of our patients would like to see a healthy under-six child receive a medical card whilst a chronically ill eight-year-old does not.”

He added that they want the Government to focus on helping the most vulnerable children.

Heart rate can indicate risk of diabetes, finds large-scale study

   

Faster resting heart rates are associated with increased risk of developing diabetes, finds study published in International Journal of Epidemiology

Heart rate monitor: ‘Each additional 10 beats per minute was associated with 23% increased risk of diabetes,’ said Dr Xiang Gao. Photograph: David Sillitoe

Measuring heart rate could help identify people at risk of diabetes, research has shown.

Scientists found that faster resting heart rates were associated with an increased risk of developing the disease.

More heart beats per minute were also linked to poorer fasting blood sugar levels.

US researcher Dr Xiang Gao, from Pennsylvania state university, said: “We found participants with faster heart rates, suggesting lower automatic function, had increased risk of diabetes, pre-diabetes and conversion from pre-diabetes to diabetes.

“Each additional 10 beats per minute was associated with 23% increased risk of diabetes, similar to the effects of a 3kg-per-sq-m increase in body mass index (BMI).”

The four-year study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, recruited a total of 73,357 Chinese adults. Their results were combined with data from seven previous studies involving almost 100,000 men and women.

“We found a similar association – individuals with fast heart rate had 59% increased risk of diabetes relative to those with slow heart rate,” said Dr Gao.

During the four-year follow-up period, the scientists identified 17,463 pre-diabetic cases and 4,649 diabetes cases.

All the study participants were employees of the Kailuan Coal Co, Ltd, a coal mining company in China. For this reason, they could not be viewed as representative of the general population, said the researchers.

However, combining the findings with those from other individuals with different social and cultural backgrounds revealed a similar association between heart rate and diabetes risk.

Owners of iOS 9 should play nice with Older iPhones & iPads

  

Good news for those of you with older iPhones. Apple’s next-gen mobile OS will reportedly support your aging smartphone.

According to 9to5Mac, which cited multiple sources familiar with Apple’s plans, iOS 9 is being developed to work with devices like the iPhone 4s and original iPad mini.

“In order to avoid the sluggishness and bugginess that was most notably seen in iOS 7 for the iPhone 4, Apple has restructured its software engineering process to better support older hardware,” 9to5Mac said.

Cupertino is building a “core version” of iOS 9 that will work on devices with Apple’s older A5 processor, the blog said. Then, it will enable other features that might only work on newer gadgets.

Apple’s iOS 8 is technically compatible with older devices, but it’s not an ideal experience on gadgets like iPhone 4s.

As 9to5Mac notes, the move might surprise some Apple-watchers, who likely assumed that Cupertino wanted its customers to upgrade to newer, pricier iPhones rather than updating old phones to iOS 9. That might be the case, of course, but not everyone can afford a new iPhone (and this lets Apple poke fun at Android fragmentation even more).

The report comes several months after 9to5Mac reported that iOS 9 would focus more on stability than shiny new features. That’s still true, it said today, though we’ll probably see a few tweaks, from transit info on Apple Maps and new fonts to a Home app for HomeKit devices andsplit screens on the iPad.

One thing enthusiasts might not like: a new security feature, dubbed Rootless, which “will prevent even administrative-level users from being able to access certain protected files on Apple devices,” 9to5Mac said—a potential blow to iPhone jailbreakers.

Expect more details about iOS 9 and Mac OS X at next month’s WWDC, which kicks off June 8 in San Francisco.

An octopus can ‘see’ using its skin

Ability may help octopuses change colour to camouflage themselves

   

A blindfolded octopus isn’t blind.

The researchers experimented on skin samples from the California two-spot octopus, like this hatchling. (University of California Santa Barbara)

That’s because octopuses can detect changes in brightness with an organ that’s not typically linked to a sense of sight — their skin, U.S. researchers have found.

“Octopus skin can sense light by itself. It doesn’t need the eyes to be able to sense light,” said Desmond Ramirez, lead author of a new study describing the phenomenon, in a video statement.

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

A summary of the paper:

Ramirez, a PhD student, and co-author Todd Oakley, a professor in the Department of Ecology Evolution and Marine Biology at the University of California Santa Barbara, don’t think that the skin of an octopus can detect details like contrast and the edges of objects the way eyes can.

But their ability to detect light may help explain how octopuses are so good at changing the colour of their skin to camouflage with rocks, sand or other surroundings.

No brain required?

The researchers didn’t test living octopuses, just samples of their skin. When they exposed the skin samples to light, pigmented spots on the skin called chromatophores expanded, making the skin look darker. The response happened without any help from the eyes or brain.

When they exposed the octopus skin samples to light, pigmented spots on the skin called chromatophores expanded, making the skin look darker. (University of California Santa Barbara/Journal of Experimental Biology)

Further research suggested how the chromatophores could respond to light — they contain light-sensitive proteins called opsins. Opsins are the same light-sensitive proteins found in the octopus’s eyes and used in regular vision.

“It looks like the existing cellular mechanism for light detection in octopus eyes, which has been around for quite some time, has been co-opted for light sensing in the animal’s skin,” Oakley said in a statement.

While the researchers think the skin’s light-sensing abilities may help an octopus camouflage with its environment, they don’t yet know how exactly how those abilities are used in a living animal, Oakley told CBC News in an email.

“So we don’t know how it is used in camouflage.”

Octopuses belong to a scientific group called mollusks that include animals such as clams, snails and chitons. Many of those other kinds of mollusks were already known to sense light with their skin and respond by doing things like moving toward or away from it, but not by changing their colour.