A study looks at one of the most popular and quirky cephalopods in aquariums, which aren’t so easy to spot in the deep sea.

The cuttlefish Metasepia pfefferi in full display.

The Marine Biological Laboratory of the University of Chicago (USA) has closely followed in Indonesia the extravagant cuttlefish, also called jibia extravagante (Metasepia pfefferi). They wanted to know more about the behavior of this cephalopod, very popular for its ability to exhibit a colorful skin and shiny, which changes its texture, as well as the way it moves.

This new study, whose results are published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, is co-led by Roger Hanlon and clarifies aspects of the ability to mating and camouflage on the cuttlefish: “This animal is well known in the internet community, has been on television many times and is popular in public aquariums. In most of the cases, [su piel] It shows this brilliant display of color, ”says the scientist.

However, his observations tell a rather different and richer story than has been known until now. “It turns out that in the wild, the flamboyant cuttlefish is camouflaged most of the time. They are almost impossible to find ”, he clarifies. In the blink of an eye, they can go from one of the best cephalopod camouflages known to ravishing, eye-catching skin.

From what researchers have been able to see, this cuttlefish only uses color on certain occasions: to courtship rituals males, when males are fighting over a female and to blink briefly at a threatening object.

“Its striking display is common when a diver gets close enough to photograph it, so the public may think that this species is always this colorful. But it is rare to see it in nature“, añade Hanlon.

Ignored males with 2.89 second matings

The courtship displays of the male cuttlefish from Metasepia pfefferi they are among the most elaborate of all cephalopods. Researchers have been able to study their sexual life – from courtship, to mating and egg laying – through hours of video taken during various dives with teams of volunteers.

Males, who tend to be significantly smaller than females, approach and court a camouflaged female with flashy displays and elaborate rituals, including ‘waves‘, which they achieve by quickly shaking three pairs of their limbs and’Kisses‘(the male lunges forward and briefly touches his limbs with hers).

Females generally ignore males while they are courting them and remain camouflaged and immobile or simply continue hunting. The male courtship It is done non-stop for long periods of time (6 to 52 minutes, as observed in this study).

Sex that can cost them their lives

On three of the occasions studied, two males competed simultaneously for a female. These animals can display striking courtship signals on one side of the body, while blinking (signaling aggression) on the other side toward the rival male.

In one case, the male competition ended abruptly when one of the males, while facing the female and ‘kissing’ her, lay down on a Scorpion fish camouflaged and he ate it. “Sex can come at a real cost,” Hanlon notes.

The females were demanding and often rejected the courtship of the males. Female receptivity was most obvious when males extended their first three pairs of arms and stood on the fourth pair of arms. The male then swam and quickly deposited spermatophores in the buccal region, where the seminal receptacle is located. The mean duration of mating was only 2.89 seconds.

After the fertilization, the male protected the female for a time but, curiously, not until the laying of eggs as is common in other cuttlefish. When another male was present, the protection of the pair was aggressive.

The female lays her eggs while camouflaging herself and staying still. Then he pushes them under a shell and places them inside. When the hatchlings emerge from the egg box and stream, they are fully formed and capable of camouflage.

A blinking defense of 700 milliseconds

The main mode of defense for this cuttlefish is camouflage and they remain that way most of the time. If a predator or a threatening object (like a diver) gets too close flashes and has the ability to change color in 700 milliseconds.

Its vibrant colors (white, yellow, red and brown) combine with the apparent dark brown ‘waves’ that produce a dazzling and dizzying kaleidoscope of movement and color.

“The birds They are famous for their highly evolved visual manifestations that depend, in part, on postural changes (wings of different colors and patterns). However, this species of invertebrate cuttlefish has also evolved towards dramatic and complex displays, mainly with the coloration of its skin “, concludes Hanlon.