Sepia latimanus, East Timor
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Cephalopoda
Superorder: Decapodiformes
Order: Sepiida
Zittel, 1895
Suborders and Families

Cuttlefish are marine animals of the order Sepiida. They belong to the class Cephalopoda (which also includes squid, octopuses, and nautiluses). Despite their name, cuttlefish are not fish but molluscs.

Cuttlefish have an internal shell (the cuttlebone), large W-shaped pupils, eight arms and two tentacles furnished with denticulated suckers, with which they secure their prey. They generally range in size from 15 cm (5.9 in) to 25 cm (9.8 in), with the largest species, Sepia apama, reaching 50 cm (20 in) in mantle length and over 10.5 kg (23 lb) in weight.[1]

Cuttlefish eat small molluscs, crabs, shrimp, fish, octopuses, worms, and other cuttlefish. Their predators include dolphins, sharks, fish, seals, seabirds and other cuttlefish. Their life expectancy is about one to two years. Recent studies indicate that cuttlefish are among the most intelligent invertebrates.[2] Cuttlefish also have one of the largest brain-to-body size ratios of all invertebrates.[2]

The 'cuttle' in 'cuttlefish' comes from the Old English word cudele, meaning 'cuttlefish', which may be cognate with the Old Norse koddi ('cushion', 'testicle') and the Middle Low German küdel ('pouch').[citation needed] The Greco-Roman world valued the cephalopod as a source of the unique brown pigment that the creature releases from its siphon when it is alarmed. The word for it in both Greek and Latin, sepia, is now used to refer to a brown pigment in English.

Video of a cuttlefish in its natural habitat




Cuttlefish possess an internal structure called the cuttlebone, which is porous and is made of aragonite. This provides the cuttlefish with buoyancy, which it regulates by changing the gas-to-liquid ratio in the chambered cuttlebone via the ventral siphuncle.[3] Each species' cuttlebone has a distinct shape, size, and pattern of ridges or texture. The cuttlebone is unique to cuttlefish, and is one of the features that distinguish them from their squid relatives. Jewelers and silversmiths traditionally use cuttlebones as moulds for casting small objects,[4] but they are probably better known as the tough material given to parakeets and other caged birds as a source of dietary calcium.

Two photos of cuttlefish with dramatically different coloration
This Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus) can go from camouflage tans and browns (top) to yellow with dark highlights (bottom) in less than a second.


Photo of cuttlefish against mottled sea bottom
An infant cuttlefish protects itself with camouflage

Cuttlefish are sometimes referred to as the chameleon of the sea because of their remarkable ability to rapidly alter their skin color at will. Cuttlefish change color and light polarisation to communicate to other cuttlefish and to camouflage themselves from predators.

This color-changing function is produced by groups of red, yellow, brown, and black pigmented chromatophores above a layer of reflective iridophores and leucophores, with up to 200 of these specialized pigment cells per square millimeter, which corresponds to about 359 DPI. The pigmented chromatophores have a sac of pigment and a large membrane that is folded when retracted. There are 6 to 20 small muscle cells on the sides which can contract to squash the elastic sac into a disc against the skin. Yellow chromatophores (xanthophores) are closest to the surface of the skin, red and orange are below (erythrophores), and brown or black are just above the iridophore layer (melanophores). The iridophores reflect blue and green light. Iridophores are plates of chitin or protein, which can reflect the environment around a cuttlefish. They are responsible for the metallic blues, greens, golds, and silvers often seen on cuttlefish. All of these cells can be used in combinations. For example, orange is produced by red and yellow chromatophores, while purple can be created by a red chromatophore and an iridophore. The cuttlefish can also use an iridophore and a yellow chromatophore to produce a brighter green. As well as being able to influence the color of light as it reflects off their skin, cuttlefish can also affect the light's polarization, which can be used to signal to other marine animals, many of which can also sense polarization.[5]


Photo of cuttlefish in profile, displaying its eye including its narrow, curving pupil
Close up of a cuttlefish eye

Cuttlefish eyes are among the most developed in the animal kingdom. The organogenesis of cephalopod eyes differs fundamentally from that of vertebrates like humans.[6] Superficial similarities between cephalopod and vertebrate eyes are thought to be examples of convergent evolution. The cuttlefish pupil is a smoothly-curving W shape. Although cuttlefish cannot see color,[7] they can perceive the polarization of light, which enhances their perception of contrast. They have two spots of concentrated sensor cells on their retina (known as foveae), one to look more forward, and one to look more backward. The eye changes focus by reshaping the entire eye, instead of reshaping the lens as in mammals. Unlike the vertebrate eye, there is no blind spot, because the optic nerve is positioned behind the retina.

Scientists have speculated that cuttlefish's eyes are fully developed before birth and start observing their surroundings while still in the egg. One team of French researchers has additionally suggested that cuttlefish prefer to hunt the prey they saw before hatching.[8]

An illustration of the suckers of a cuttlefish, 1834


The suckers of cuttlefish extend most of the length of their arms and along the distal portion of their tentacles.


The blood of a cuttlefish is an unusual shade of green-blue because it uses the copper-containing protein hemocyanin to carry oxygen instead of the red iron-containing protein hemoglobin that is found in vertebrates' blood. The blood is pumped by three separate hearts: two branchial hearts pump blood to the cuttlefish's pair of gills (one heart for each), and the third pumps blood around the rest of the body. Cuttlefish blood must flow more rapidly than that of most other animals because hemocyanin carries substantially less oxygen than hemoglobin.


Cuttlefish have ink, like squid and octopuses, which they use to help evade predators.


Like octopuses and some squid, all cuttlefish have bacterially-produced neurotoxins in their saliva.[9]

The muscles of Pfeffer's Flamboyant Cuttlefish contain a highly toxic compound that is yet to be identified.[2] Mark Norman with Museum Victoria in Victoria, Australia, has shown the toxin to be as lethal as that of a fellow cephalopod, the blue-ringed octopus.[10]



While the preferred diet of cuttlefish is crabs and fish, they feed on small shrimp shortly after hatching.[11]

They use their camouflage to hunt and sneak up on their prey. When they get close enough, they open their eight arms and shoot out two long feeding tentacles. On the end of each is a pad covered in suckers that grabs and pulls prey toward its beak.[11]

Range and habitat

Family Sepiidae, which contains all cuttlefish, inhabit tropical/temperate ocean waters. They are mostly shallow-water animals although they are known to go to depths of about 600 metres (2,000 ft).[12] They have an unusual biogeographic pattern: totally absent from the Americas, but present along the coasts of east and south Asia, western Europe, the Mediterranean, as well as all coasts of Africa and Australia. By the time the family evolved, ostensibly in the Old World, the north Atlantic possibly had become too cold and deep for these warm water species to cross.[13]


Photo of cuttlefish displaying narrow white bands on its upper side and tentacles hanging from its face
Sepia officinalis from Turkish waters

Over 120 species of cuttlefish are currently recognised, grouped into 5 genera. Sepiadariidae contains seven species and 2 genera; all the rest are in Sepiidae.

Relation to humans


Cuttlefish are caught for food in the Mediterranean, East Asia, the English Channel and elsewhere. Although squid is more popular as a restaurant dish all over the world, in East Asia dried, shredded cuttlefish is a popular snack food.

Three-sided white plate containing linguini
Linguine with cuttlefish and ink sauce served at a Venetian osteria

Cuttlefish are especially popular in Italy, where they are used in Risotto al Nero di Seppia (literally black cuttlefish rice). The Croatian Crni Rižot is virtually the same recipe, which probably originated in Venice and then spread across both coasts of the Adriatic.[citation needed] "Nero" and "Crni" mean black, the color rice turns because of the cuttlefish ink.

In Spain, breaded and deep-fried cuttlefish is a popular dish in Andalusia, where it is known as choco. Spanish cuisine, especially that of the coastal regions, uses cuttlefish and squid ink for the marine flavor and smoothness it provides; it is included in dishes such as rice, pasta and fish stews.

In Portugal, it is the regional dish of the city of Setúbal and surrounding areas, where it is served as deep-fried strips or in a variant of feijoada, with red kidney beans.

Cultural significance

Eugenio Montale's ground-breaking debut collection of poetry Cuttlefish Bones (Ossi di seppia) was published in Turin in 1925. Montale, who grew up in Liguria along the Mediterranean Sea, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1975, for his long and prolific career.[citation needed]


Cuttlefish ink was formerly an important dye, called sepia. Today artificial dyes have mostly replaced natural sepia.

See also


  1. ^ Reid, A., P. Jereb, & C.F.E. Roper 2005. Family Sepiidae. In: P. Jereb & C.F.E. Roper, eds. Cephalopods of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of species known to date. Volume 1. Chambered nautiluses and sepioids (Nautilidae, Sepiidae, Sepiolidae, Sepiadariidae, Idiosepiidae and Spirulidae). FAO Species Catalogue for Fishery Purposes. No. 4, Vol. 1. Rome, FAO. pp. 57–152.
  2. ^ a b c NOVA, 2007. Cuttlefish: Kings of Camouflage. (television program) NOVA, PBS, April 3, 2007.
  3. ^ Rexfort, A.; Mutterlose, J. (2006). "Stable isotope records from Sepia officinalis—a key to understanding the ecology of belemnites?". Earth and Planetary Science Letters 247 (3–4): 212–212. Bibcode 2006E&PSL.247..212R. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2006.04.025.  edit
  4. ^ Casting Silver with Cuttlefish. Retrieved on 2011-09-18.
  5. ^ Mäthger, L. M., Shashar, N., and R.T. Hanlon. 2009. Do cephalopods communicate using polarized light reflections from their skin? Journal of Experimental Biology 212: 2133–2140. doi:10.1242/jeb.020800
  6. ^ Muller, Matthew. "Development of the Eye in Vertebrates and Cephalopods and Its Implications for Retinal Structure". The Cephalopod Eye. Davidson College Biology Department. Retrieved 2007-04-06. 
  7. ^ Mäthger, Lydia M.. "Color blindness and contrast perception in cuttlefish (Sepia offcinalis) determined by a visual sensorimotor assay". Vision Research, Volume 46, Issue 11, May 2006. Elsevier Ltd.. Retrieved 2007-09-03. 
  8. ^ "Cuttlefish spot target prey early". BBC News. 2008-06-05. Retrieved 2008-05-06. 
  9. ^ All Octopuses Are Venomous, Study Says. (2010-10-28). Retrieved on 2011-09-18.
  10. ^ Teacher's Guide to NOVA episode – Kings of Camouflage on PBS (After Watching: Activity 2).
  11. ^ a b Cuttlefish Basics. (2003-02-12). Retrieved on 2011-09-18.
  12. ^ Lu, C. C. and C. F. E. Roper. 1991. Aspects of the biology of Sepia cultrata from southeastern Australia. In: La Seiche, The Cuttlefish. Boucaud-Camou, E. (Ed). Caen, France; Centre de Publications de l'Université de Caen: 192.
  13. ^ Young, R. E., M. Vecchione and D. Donovan (1998). "The evolution of coleoid cephalopods and their present biodiversity and ecology". South African Journal of Marine Science 20: 393. doi:10.2989/025776198784126287. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • cuttlefish — O.E. cudele the cuttlefish; first element perhaps related to M.L.G. küdel container, pocket; O.N. koddi cushion, testicle; and O.E. codd (see COD (Cf. cod)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • cuttlefish — [kut′ lfish΄] n. pl. cuttlefish or cuttlefishes (see FISH) [ME codel < OE cudele, akin to Norw dial. kaule (* kodle), OLowG cudele, older Du kuttlevisch: sense “pouch fish”: for IE base see COD2] any of a family (Sepiidae) of cephalopods that… …   English World dictionary

  • cuttlefish — ► NOUN ▪ a swimming marine mollusc that resembles a broad bodied squid, having eight arms and two long tentacles that are used for grabbing prey. ORIGIN related to Old English codd «bag», with reference to its ink bag …   English terms dictionary

  • cuttlefish — /kut l fish /, n., pl. (esp. collectively) cuttlefish, (esp. referring to two or more kinds or species) cuttlefishes. any of several cephalopods, esp. of the genus Sepia, having eight arms with suckers and two tentacles, and ejecting a black,… …   Universalium

  • cuttlefish — [11] The cuttlefish probably gets its name from its resemblance to a bag when its internal shell is removed. Its earliest recorded designation is cudele (the compound cuttlefish does not appear until the 16th century), which is generally taken to …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • cuttlefish — [[t]kʌ̱t(ə)lfɪʃ[/t]] N COUNT (cuttlefish is both the singular and the plural form.) A cuttlefish is a sea animal that has a soft body and a hard shell inside …   English dictionary

  • cuttlefish — UK [ˈkʌt(ə)lˌfɪʃ] / US noun [countable/uncountable] Word forms cuttlefish : singular cuttlefish plural cuttlefishes a sea creature with ten arms …   English dictionary

  • cuttlefish — /ˈkʌtlfɪʃ / (say kutlfish) noun (plural cuttlefish or cuttlefishes) any of various decapod dibranchiate cephalopods, especially of the genus Sepia, having sucker bearing arms and the power of ejecting a black, ink like fluid when pursued. Also,… …  

  • cuttlefish — [11] The cuttlefish probably gets its name from its resemblance to a bag when its internal shell is removed. Its earliest recorded designation is cudele (the compound cuttlefish does not appear until the 16th century), which is generally taken to …   Word origins

  • Cuttlefish — Cuttle Cut tle (k[u^]t t l), Cuttlefish Cut tle*fish ( f[i^]sh ), n. [OE. codule, AS. cudele; akin to G. kuttelfish; cf. G. k[ o]tel, D. keutel, dirt from the guts, G. kuttel bowels, entrails. AS. cwi[thorn] womb, Goth. qi[thorn]us belly, womb.]… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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