Disruptive coloration in cuttlefish: a visual perception mechanism that regulates ontogenetic adjustment of skin patterning. Academic Article uri icon


  • Among the changeable camouflage patterns of cuttlefish, disruptive patterning is shown in response to certain features of light objects in the visual background. However, whether animals show disruptive patterns is dependent not only on object size but also on their body size. Here, we tested whether cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) are able to match their disruptive body patterning with increasing size of background objects as they grow from hatchling to adult size (0.7 to 19.6 cm mantle length; factor of 28). Specifically, do cuttlefish have a single ;visual sampling rule' that scales accurately during ontogeny? For each of seven size classes of cuttlefish, we created black and white checkerboards whose check sizes corresponded to 4, 12, 40, 120, 400 and 1200% of the area of the cuttlefish's White square, which is a neurophysiologically controlled component of the skin. Disruptive body patterns were evoked when, regardless of animal size, the check size measured either 40 or 120% of the area of the cuttlefish's White square, thus demonstrating a remarkable ontogenetic conformity to a single visual sampling rule. Cuttlefish have no known visual feedback loop with which to adjust their skin patterns. Since the area of a cuttlefish's White square skin component is a function of body size, our results indicate that cuttlefish are solving a visual scaling problem of camouflage presumably without visual confirmation of the size of their own skin component.

publication date

  • April 2007