Sunday 11 January 2015

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Image: q phia
Metasepia pfefferi
It's time to put your glad rags on! The ones with the inconveniently voluminous sleeves. The ones that are so brightly coloured they set off fire alarms.

And yet, no matter how extravagant your gladdest of rags may be, they can only pale in comparison to the Flamboyant Cuttlefish...

Image: Silke Baron
It's a sight to behold! The Flamboyant Cuttlefish smoulders with purple and brown and burns bright with white and yellow.

Image: Rick Collier
Despite being so impressively eye-catching, Flamboyant Cuttlefish are tiny! They're only about 8 cm (3 in) long for a large female and the males are slightly smaller.

Image: Daniel Kwok
There is very little to overshadow them in their natural habitat. They come from northern Australia and the Philippines but avoid the hustle and bustle of coral reefs. They prefer the sandy and muddy plains, the kind of place people visit when they go "muck diving".

Image: q phia
Flamboyant Cuttlefish are perfectly capable of changing their colours so that they're well camouflaged around all that sand. However, they typically prefer to stand out and give the place some much needed razzle dazzle.

Image: Klaus Stiefel
Like other cuttlefish, the Flamboyant has 8 arms which are quite short and two long tentacles with suckers at the end. The tentacles are usually hidden away until dinner time. That's when they shoot out like a chameleon's tongue to grab hold of small crustaceans and fish.

When you watch a Flamboyant Cuttlefish go about its day, you'll something interesting. Other cuttlefish are accomplished swimmers who hover sedately over the sea floor like Professor Xavier in his magic chair. Flamboyant Cuttlefish are different. They can swim, just not very well. So...

They prefer to walk! Two big arms serve as their front legs while a pair of fins on the underside of their mantle serve as hind legs. Now they can amble about on the sea floor, taking in the views and plucking choice morsels of grub as they go.

All the while they rhythmically raise and lower their other tentacles as a wave of stripes travel along their body in what's known as the passing cloud display. It's enough to make you wonder what tune they might be whistling to themselves.

Video: liquidguru

And once you get used to them walking about it suddenly becomes weird to see them swimming or slowly descending to the floor. It's a bit supernatural, like if all those people in the Matrix had a more exciting dress sense.

Still, this is all a bit odd. A tiny cuttlefish slowly wandering around in the open, bright and bold as brass? They are not the only predator here, you know! And they're far from the largest. What is their secret?

Video: liquidguru
On the hunt

Well, it turns out they're high-ups in the fashion industry. Sorry, I mean poisonous. It seems they have powerful toxins in their flesh and all that colourful garb serves as a warning. They're not toxic to the touch, only if you eat them, and I guess very few people ever tried to eat them so it took us ages to found out that we shouldn't. It also makes them the only toxic cuttlefish in the world, as far as we know.

This is probably why the Flamboyant Cuttlefish is surprisingly brave for such a tiny creature. They're not one to run away at the first sign of trouble. They're willing to stand their ground and blaze their colours: do you know who I am?

Image: Klaus Stiefel
They're on a date
Flamboyant colours are also used in their mating displays, which is good because colours like that shouldn't all be about threats of pain and death.

If the female accepts her suitor, he'll use a specially modified arm to deposit a spermatophore into a pouch in her mantle. She uses this to fertilise her eggs, which she deposits in various hiding places. The eggs start out white and become transparent over time so you can see the developing youngsters.

Video: liquidguru

Eventually the eggs hatch and out come a bunch of tiny Flamboyant Cuttlefish, just as flamboyant as their parents! They immediately set about hunting tiny prey and threatening to kill anyone who tries to eat them.

Image: Buzz
Kids will be kids...


TexWisGirl said...

pretty little crawlers!

Porakiya said...

they'd make nice pets :D

Lear's Fool said...

Is it just me or was he rubbing his tentacles together Montgomery Burns style in the hunting video?

Crunchy said...

Aptly named! Looks like she's just waiting for Mr. Peacock Mantis Shrimp to swim by and pick her up for a masquerade.

Joseph JG said...

@TexWisGirl: Yup!

@Porakiya Draekojin: They really would! Unfortunately they're difficult to keep and like most cephalopods they only live for about a year.

@Lear's Fool: It REALLY looks like he was doing that! Maybe they just love he hunt that much. There's a dark heart in there...

@Crunchy: They'll be the talk of the town!