All the photos in this post are of one Giant Cuttlefish, watched on a dive a few days ago. As I followed him around he produced a kaleidoscopic sequence of colors and forms.

Cfish_4158 metamorph

The “standard” color for a Giant Cuttlefish is a dark red, as in the first picture, but this one spent a lot of time in intense oranges and yellows, with occasional floods of white. The two photos below were taken four seconds apart.Cfish metamorph pair 3927-8

Sometimes his color matched the orange-green kelp around him, occasionally quite closely, like one of the trompe l’oeil octopuses I wrote about a little while ago.

Cfish_4093 metamorph

But he did not stay in those colors – or any other colors – for long.

Cfish_3955 - metamorph

When he roamed over sand he looked like a squid, his evolutionary cousin.

Cfish_4187 -metamorph

Watching this felt like seeing an evolutionary transition take place in seconds, a metamorphosis that bridged scales in time. (I am not saying that cuttlefish actually evolved from a squid-like animal, or vice versa. Though squid are their closest living relatives, the common ancestor might have looked different from both.)

Cfish_4111 - metamorph

Here is some video. I spent most of the dive watching him in and around a den, but late in the afternoon he went roaming and foraging for food. In compressed and partial form, in the video he goes through the reds, the oranges, and greys of the dive. He catches a fish, and releases it.

Evolution. Metamorphosis. Behavioral shifts. The cuttlefish, especially with the transitions to and from squid, seemed to pack changes on all scales into his restless tour.



Postscript: I have an octopus article out in the Boston Review at the moment.


Posted in Color change, Cuttlefish, Evolution and tagged , . permalink.

3 Responses to Metamorphoses

  1. Davie says:

    Amazing to see video of these guys in action — kind of like a magical flying carpet, but capable of deadly force.

    Why do you think this one caught and released the fish? It would be interesting if it was for some nonobvious reason, ie, not because it was a prickly, poisonous, or poor-tasting fish. This reminds me of “food play” behaviors in other animals. For example, dogs and wolves tossing and catching dead mice, repeating this action with variations in height and direction of tossing. And killer whales doing the same, with seals.

    I wonder if there is research arguing that some food play behaviors are “true” play or only look like play to we human observers. I gave a talk to preschool parents recently arguing for the importance of play and other non-academic-looking activities in early childhood education. Prepping that involved reading “Welcome to your child’s brain” by Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang, who describe play behaviors in nonhuman animals, and also offer a definition of play: (1) resembles a serious behavior, but done clumsily by a young animal, or otherwise altered — exaggerated, etc; (2) no immediate survival purpose; (3) animal is not under stress and does not have something more pressing to do. Maybe your cuttlefish’s catch and release could satisfy these three criteria…

    • PGS says:

      The fish release is very surprising to me. No idea why he did it. There is a bit of weed that gets expelled at the same time, so the cuttlefish might have let the weed go and not realized he had the fish there. But assuming he knew he had the fish, why let it go? As far as I know, it’s not a poisonous fish (though I should check this).

      Jennifer Mather and Roland Anderson have some published work on play in octopuses (Journal of Comp. Psych, 1999). They connected this to work on individual personalities. Some individual octopuses play, and some don’t. In the case of octo play with novel objects, it makes some sense that they’d be constantly manipulating objects that might turn out to be sources of food, and this could spill over into general exploration. But in the cuttlefish case, if this was play it would have to be catch and release of something that is clearly food. As you say, it’s reminiscent of dogs and cats tossing food around.

      Flying carpet — a perfect image.

  2. Ros says:

    That is completely amazing.
    I love each and every episode of PGS that you so kindly post. Thank you.
    (It is making me question salt and pepper calamari tho)

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