Color matching on natural substrates in cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis

  • Lydia M. MäthgerEmail author
  • Chuan-Chin Chiao
  • Alexandra Barbosa
  • Roger T. Hanlon
Original Paper


The camouflaging abilities of cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) are remarkable and well known. It is commonly believed that cuttlefish—although color blind—actively match various colors of their immediate surroundings, yet no quantitative data support this notion. We assembled several natural substrates chosen to evoke the three basic types of camouflaged body patterns that cuttlefish express (uniform/stipple, mottle, and disruptive) and measured the spectral reflectance of the camouflaged pattern and the respective background using a fiber optic spectrometer. We demonstrate that the reflectance spectra of cuttlefish skin patterns correlate closely with the spectra of these natural substrates. Since pigmented chromatophores play a key role in cephalopod color change, we also measured the spectral reflectance of individual cuttlefish chromatophores under the microscope, and confirm the results from a previous publication reporting three distinct colors of chromatophores (yellow, orange, and dark brown) on the animals’ dorsal side. Taken together, our results show that the color variations in substrate and animal skin can be very similar and that this may facilitate color match on natural substrates in the absence of color vision.


Color change Contrast Spectral reflectance Chromatophore Camouflage 



We are grateful to the Sholley Foundation and to ONR grant N00014-06-1-0202 for support of this project. CCC was supported by the MBL summer research fellowship. AB is grateful for funding from POCI 2010 and Fundo Social Europeu through the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Portugal (SFRH/BD/11303/2002). This paper fulfils partial requirements for a PhD degree at the University of Porto for AB. Special thanks to the Animal Care Staff of the Marine Resources Center of the MBL. Thanks also to Justin Marshall for valuable discussions, and Devi Stuart-Fox and Almut Kelber for their constructive comments on this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lydia M. Mäthger
    • 1
    Email author
  • Chuan-Chin Chiao
    • 1
    • 2
  • Alexandra Barbosa
    • 1
    • 3
  • Roger T. Hanlon
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Biological LaboratoryWoods HoleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Life ScienceNational Tsing Hua UniversityHsinchuTaiwan
  3. 3.ICBAS, Institute of Biomedical Sciences Abel SalazarUniversity of PortoPortoPortugal

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