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Lizard skin

A portion of the skin of an ocellated lizard, 3d scanned over the years, shows the beauty and magic behind animal patterns.


University of Geneva




Projection Mapping Installation

Type of Work

Installation design

Skin colour patterns are generated through a self-organisational process highly similar to Reaction-Diffusion.
Alan Turing, in his paper: The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis. Alan M. Turing
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 237, 37-72 (1952) describes the way in which patterns in nature such as stripes and spots can arise naturally out of a homogeneous, uniform state.

Patterns such as fronts, hexagons, spirals, stripes are found as solutions of Turing-like reaction–diffusion equations. The parameters will depend on the physical system that is under consideration.

At the macroscopic scale, such dynamical processes can be approximated as involving continuous media and can be described quantitatively with nonlinear partial differential equations similar to those used in the reaction–diffusion (RD) framework.

The formation and ontogenic dynamics of skin colour in the ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) seems to conflict with this RD framework, given that mesoscopic skin scales, rather than individual chromatophore cells, establish the pattern.

A portion of a lizard skin was sculpted in wood and the results of mathematical simulations were animated and projected, showing the peculiar evolution of the skin pattern.

What we can observe following the color change and the evolution of the pattern over time is that Scale color is not at all random and it is not (skin) scale autonomous.
It is demonstrated that this labyrinthine pattern is “computed” on a discrete-state dynamical lattice of skin scales by a quasi-hexagonal probabilistic cellular automaton (CA). 

The lattice of skin scales in ocellated lizards is a CA that computes a skin color pattern!

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