Original Paper

Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 199, Issue 3, pp 211-225

First online:

Quantification of cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) camouflage: a study of color and luminance using in situ spectrometry

  • Derya AkkaynakAffiliated withDepartment of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyDepartment of Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering, Woods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionMarine Biological Laboratory, Marine Resources Center Email author 
  • , Justine J. AllenAffiliated withMarine Biological Laboratory, Marine Resources CenterDepartment of Neuroscience, Brown University
  • , Lydia M. MäthgerAffiliated withMarine Biological Laboratory, Marine Resources Center
  • , Chuan-Chin ChiaoAffiliated withMarine Biological Laboratory, Marine Resources CenterDepartment of Life Science, National Tsing Hua University
  • , Roger T. HanlonAffiliated withMarine Biological Laboratory, Marine Resources CenterDepartment of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Brown University

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Cephalopods are renowned for their ability to adaptively camouflage on diverse backgrounds. Sepia officinalis camouflage body patterns have been characterized spectrally in the laboratory but not in the field due to the challenges of dynamic natural light fields and the difficulty of using spectrophotometric instruments underwater. To assess cuttlefish color match in their natural habitats, we studied the spectral properties of S. officinalis and their backgrounds on the Aegean coast of Turkey using point-by-point in situ spectrometry. Fifteen spectrometry datasets were collected from seven cuttlefish; radiance spectra from animal body components and surrounding substrates were measured at depths shallower than 5 m. We quantified luminance and color contrast of cuttlefish components and background substrates in the eyes of hypothetical di- and trichromatic fish predators. Additionally, we converted radiance spectra to sRGB color space to simulate their in situ appearance to a human observer. Within the range of natural colors at our study site, cuttlefish closely matched the substrate spectra in a variety of body patterns. Theoretical calculations showed that this effect might be more pronounced at greater depths. We also showed that a non-biological method (“Spectral Angle Mapper”), commonly used for spectral shape similarity assessment in the field of remote sensing, shows moderate correlation to biological measures of color contrast. This performance is comparable to that of a traditional measure of spectral shape similarity, hue and chroma. This study is among the first to quantify color matching of camouflaged cuttlefish in the wild.


Animal coloration Spectral angle Color match Body pattern Fish predator