26 May 2010

Cuttlefish: masters of camouflage and cleverness

Camilla Bath
Australian giant cuttlefish. Photo courtesy Richard Ling

Imagine a sea creature that boasts one of the largest brain-to-body ratios of all invertebrates. Give it blue-green blood and not just one but three hearts. Then add on some remarkable camouflaging abilities – and you have an animal that actually exists: the cuttlefish.

Whoever would have guessed that cuttlefish are such fascinating marine creatures?

Despite their name, cuttlefish are not fish, but molluscs. These mystifying creatures of the deep boast abilities and senses that are alien to us as humans. They have remarkable skills that allow them to evade predators; sensing danger, a cuttlefish can pose as vegetation or rocks, or create a decoy of itself in ink and escape with remarkable speed, thanks to their astonishing jet-propulsion ability.

Some say the cuttlefish outshines even the chameleon in its amazing ability to change colour. The skin of a cuttlefish possesses a large number of pigment cells, allowing it to pattern itself with a variety of colours.
This sea creature can also alter the colour of its skin when food sources swim near it, to avoid early detection.

They’re known as one of the brainiest animals in the ocean and scientists believe cuttlefish can even use visual clues to solve mazes. It is believed that cuttlefish can also process sensory stimuli like smell and sound in the form of pressure waves. Recent studies indicate they’re among the most intelligent invertebrates.

Cuttlefish dine mainly on crab and fish, but are themselves eaten by sharks, fish, other cuttlefish, rays, ocean pike, eel, dolphin, seals, marine birds and even humans. They’re particularly popular in East Asia as a snack. It’s unfortunate that humans would want to consume so fascinating and intelligent a sea creature.

Cuttlefish have been swimming the ocean for millions of years (they were around long before the first shark or fish) and they have no special conservation status. There is increased pressure, however, to add the giant cuttlefish of Australia to the endangered species list to combat overfishing in the area.

You can spot the common cuttlefish in the Aquarium’s Oceans of Contrast: Atlantic Oceans Gallery.

Click here to read more about these fascinating creatures.

blog comments powered by Disqus