A Cuttlefish's Childhood Home Determines Where They Settle Down

CuttlefishCan you see the cuttlefish?

Photo: Chuan-Chin Chiao

The childhood home of a young cuttlefish (a sea animal related to the octopus) can give them an advantage later in life, new research suggests. If the soft sea creatures grow up in a more complex environment, they often prefer to hang out on messier backgrounds, which they can blend into better. Cuttlefish have highly complex brains, which they use to blend in to different backgrounds, study researcher Chuan-Chin Chiao of National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan, told me. They use their brains to control a special system of pigments and reflecting proteins in their skin which they change to blend in to their natural environment. They even make a valiant effort to blend in with a black and white checkerboard pattern in the lab (see video of a cuttlefish changing colours below).

Cuttlefish on a checkerboardThis cuttlefish is doing his best to blend in with a high contrast background.

Photo: Chuan-Chin Chiao

A new study, published tomorrow, July 11, in the journal Biology Letters, shows that these early life experiences can also shape how well the cuttlefish, in this study the species S. officinalis, can hide later in life. The researchers raised cuttlefish in four different environments: One with fake plants and corals, one with a checked background, one with a plain beige background, and one with a blue strainer pattern.

The researchers found that after being raised in a complex and visually enriched environment, the one with corals and plants, the cuttlefish preferred to hang out on more complex backgrounds, like the checkerboard pattern.

While cuttlefish don’t often hang out on checkerboards in nature, this type of high contrast surface can be found in complex ocean environments, Chiao said. These complex environments are easier for the cuttlefish to blend into and so hanging out there could give these cephalopods a defensive advantage later in life. Conservation efforts to save the cuttlefish should focus on preserving complex environments, like coral reefs.

See some great examples of cuttlefish camouflage in the video below.

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