Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 195, Issue 6, pp 547–555 | Cite as

Cuttlefish use visual cues to control three-dimensional skin papillae for camouflage

  • Justine J. Allen
  • Lydia M. Mäthger
  • Alexandra Barbosa
  • Roger T. Hanlon
Original Paper


Cephalopods (octopus, squid and cuttlefish) are known for their camouflage. Cuttlefish Sepia officinalis use chromatophores and light reflectors for color change, and papillae to change three-dimensional physical skin texture. Papillae vary in size, shape and coloration; nine distinct sets of papillae are described here. The objective was to determine whether cuttlefish use visual or tactile cues to control papillae expression. Cuttlefish were placed on natural substrates to evoke the three major camouflage body patterns: Uniform/Stipple, Mottle and Disruptive. Three versions of each substrate were presented: the actual substrate, the actual substrate covered with glass (removes tactile information) and a laminated photograph of the substrate (removes tactile and three-dimensional information because depth-of-field information is unavailable). No differences in Small dorsal papillae or Major lateral mantle papillae expression were observed among the three versions of each substrate. Thus, visual (not tactile) cues drive the expression of papillae in S. officinalis. Two sets of papillae (Major lateral mantle papillae and Major lateral eye papillae) showed irregular responses; their control requires future investigation. Finally, more Small dorsal papillae were shown in Uniform/Stipple and Mottle patterns than in Disruptive patterns, which may provide clues regarding the visual mechanisms of background matching versus disruptive coloration.


Cephalopod behavior Sepia officinalis Visual perception Texture Dynamic camouflage 



Special thanks to Liese Siemann, Douglas Engel and the Animal Care Staff at the Marine Resources Center for their diligent care of the cuttlefish during these experiments. Thanks to Michael Dacey for Fig. 1a, Roy Caldwell for Fig. 4a and Fred Bavendam for Fig. 4b and d. We are also grateful to Jean Boal and Charles Chubb for advice on statistics and to Kendra C. Buresch and C. C. Chiao for helpful suggestions throughout this project. JJA would like to thank her family for their support. AB is grateful for funding from POCI 2010 and Fundo Social Europeu through the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, Portugal. This research was funded in part by the Sholley Foundation and ONR (grant N00014-06-1-0202). We are also grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Justine J. Allen
    • 1
  • Lydia M. Mäthger
    • 1
  • Alexandra Barbosa
    • 1
    • 2
  • Roger T. Hanlon
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Biological LaboratoryMarine Resources CenterWoods HoleUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Biomedical Sciences Abel Salazar (ICBAS)University of PortoPortoPortugal

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