Mottle camouflage patterns in cuttlefish: quantitative characterization and visual background stimuli that evoke them. Academic Article uri icon


  • Cuttlefish and other cephalopods achieve dynamic background matching with two general classes of body patterns: uniform (or uniformly stippled) patterns and mottle patterns. Both pattern types have been described chiefly by the size scale and contrast of their skin components. Mottle body patterns in cephalopods have been characterized previously as small-to-moderate-scale light and dark skin patches (i.e. mottles) distributed somewhat evenly across the body surface. Here we move beyond this commonly accepted qualitative description by quantitatively measuring the scale and contrast of mottled skin components and relating these statistics to specific visual background stimuli (psychophysics approach) that evoke this type of background-matching pattern. Cuttlefish were tested on artificial and natural substrates to experimentally determine some primary visual background cues that evoke mottle patterns. Randomly distributed small-scale light and dark objects (or with some repetition of small-scale shapes/sizes) on a lighter substrate with moderate contrast are essential visual cues to elicit mottle camouflage patterns in cuttlefish. Lowering the mean luminance of the substrate without changing its spatial properties can modulate the mottle pattern toward disruptive patterns, which are of larger scale, different shape and higher contrast. Backgrounds throughout nature consist of a continuous range of spatial scales; backgrounds with medium-sized light/dark patches of moderate contrast are those in which cuttlefish Mottle patterns appear to be the most frequently observed.

publication date

  • January 15, 2010