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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Apr 22;273(1589):959-67.

Symmetrical crypsis and asymmetrical signalling in the cuttlefish Sepia officinalis.

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Department of Biology and Environmental Science, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QG, UK.


The salience of bilateral symmetry to humans has led to the suggestion that camouflage may be enhanced in asymmetrical patterns. However, the importance of bilateral symmetry in visual signals (and overall morphology) may constrain the evolution of asymmetrical camouflage, resulting in the bilaterally symmetrical cryptic patterns that we see throughout the animal kingdom. This study investigates the cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis), which can control the degree of symmetry in its coloration. Ten juvenile S. officinalis were filmed in two behavioural contexts (cryptic and threatened) to test the prediction that cryptic patterns will be expressed more asymmetrically than an anti-predator signal known as the 'deimatic display'. Cryptic body patterns, particularly those with a disruptive function, were found to exhibit a high degree of bilateral symmetry. By contrast, the components of the deimatic display were often expressed asymmetrically. These results are contrary to the predicted use of symmetry in defensive coloration, indicating that the role of symmetry in both crypsis and visual signalling is not as straightforward as previously suggested.

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