FLAM­BOY­ANT CUTTLEFISH

The Flam­boy­ant cuttlefish has a few tricks up each of its eight sleeves, and gives a daz­zling, puls­ing, tech­ni­colour dis­play on the sandy floor of the co­ral reef.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Contents -

Dis­cover how these fab­u­lous cephalopods live fast, die young and give daz­zling dis­plays on the sandy floor of co­ral reefs.

LIVE FAST, die young’ is a motto many cephalopods ad­here to, and for the Flam­boy­ant cuttlefish, Me­tasepia

pf­ef­feri, this is no dif­fer­ent. Set­ting out on a fast track to ma­tu­rity, they face a race against the clock to re­pro­duce be­fore senes­cence kicks in, and with a life ex­pectancy of just a year, time isn’t on their side.

Their silt-filled, muck home­lands of the Indo-pa­cific pro­vide a per­fect refuge from the preda­tor-rich wa­ters of the co­ral reef. Cam­ou­flage is key in these open ex­panses of noth­ing­ness, where a splash of colour could put the av­er­age in­hab­i­tant top of the menu.

The Flam­boy­ant cuttlefish isn’t your ev­ery­day cephalo­pod. De­spite at­tain­ing a max­i­mum length of 8cm, they think noth­ing of tak­ing to the sand for a stroll, decked in their finest garb, and will­ingly stand their ground at the first sign of con­flict. It takes courage to take on threats far greater in size, but then they do have a few tricks up one of their eight sleeves.

At first glance, ‘flam­boy­ant’ seems an over­sight – these non­de­script lit­tle cut­tles typ­i­cally come in a fetch­ing muddy-grey colour. Like other coleoid cephalopods, though, they pos­sess chro­matophores, leu­cophores and iri­dophores – a col­lec­tion of or­gans be­neath the skin that en­able them to al­ter their coloura­tion in the blink of an eye.

When dis­turbed, vivid flashes of pur­ples, blues and yel­lows as­sault the senses, star­tling would-be preda­tors. What makes this light show even more im­pres­sive is that the pat­terns are not static – the waves of colour con­stantly change in a mul­ti­tude of hyp­notic pulses. For fur­ther ef­fect, they can change their shape, too, ad­just­ing their fleshy papil­lae to break up their out­line.

If this fire­work dis­play doesn’t de­ter preda­tors, the cut­tle has another ploy. It can re­lease clouds of ink into the wa­ter, pro­vid­ing a smoke­screen to help it make its es­cape.

Another con­tribut­ing fac­tor to their ap­par­ent bold­ness is their toxic flesh. It’s eas­ier to strut your stuff on the silt when you pos­sess the po­tency to back up your tech­ni­colour warn­ings. With tox­ins sim­i­lar to those of the blue-ringed oc­to­pus, Ha­palochlaena sp., it’s a brave crea­ture that tries to make a meal out of this lit­tle cephalo­pod.

As well as toxic mus­cles, the Flam­boy­ant cuttlefish has three hearts, through which blue blood flows, and a ring-shaped brain, with the oe­soph­a­gus run­ning straight through the mid­dle. To cap it all off, while many other cuttlefish in­flate the gas-filled cham­bers of their cut­tle­bones for buoy­ancy and mo­bil­ity, the Flam­boy­ant cuttlefish prefers to es­cape on foot, us­ing a pair of its arms as legs.

That’s all great, but how do we house them, I hear you cry? Well, you don’t. Not yet any­way.

Their wild pop­u­la­tion is un­known and due to their short life and the ter­ri­ble ship­ping mor­tal­ity rates, plus their po­ten­tially deadly bite, this is one species best suited to the ocean, rather than an aquar­ium, for now.

CHRIS SERGEANT Chris works in con­ser­va­tion re­search and reg­u­larly writes for aquar­ium pub­li­ca­tions.

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