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Biol Bull. 2006 Jun;210(3):192-200.

Signaling to the enemy? Body pattern expression and its response to external cues during hunting in the cuttlefish Sepia officinalis (Cephalopoda).

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Department of Psychology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4J1, Canada.


Cuttlefish can rapidly alter their appearance by using neurally controlled chromatophore organs. This ability may provide a window into their cognitive capacity. We test whether the changes in body pattern that occur during hunting depend on context. If they do, then it may be possible to use these changes to study cephalopod cognition while the animal is engaged in ecologically relevant tasks. We found consistent individual differences in the tendency of cuttlefish to hunt with the first two arms raised. We also found that cuttlefish usually darken their skin after they seize a prey item. This darkening is observed regardless of the identity of the prey (fish, crab, or shrimp), prey context (buried in sand, in a bare tank, or on top of a rock pile), or the presence of a sudden stimulus. The sudden stimulus was created by presenting an overhead model bird to the cuttlefish. The model induced components of the Deimatic Display, which is a form of antipredator behavior, suggesting that the model was perceived as a potential threat. Passing Cloud displays and the Darkening of the arms were significantly reduced after exposure to the model bird. The effect of a potential predator on body pattern expression during hunting suggests it may be possible to use these changes as a sensitive indicator of ecologically relevant learning.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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