An experimental method for evoking and characterizing dynamic color patterning of cuttlefish during prey capture


  • Danbee Kim NeuroGEARS, Ltd
  • Kendra C. Buresch
  • Roger T. Hanlon Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, MA, USA
  • Adam R. Kampff



deimatic behavior, secondary defense, cephalopod, body patterning, Sepia officinalis


Cuttlefish are active carnivores that possess a wide repertoire of body patterns that can be changed within milliseconds for many types of camouflage and communication. The forms and functions of many body patterns are well known from ethological studies in the field and laboratory. Yet one aspect has not been reported in detail: the category of rapid, brief and high-contrast changes in body coloration (“Tentacle Shot Patterns” or TSPs) that always occur with the ejection of two ballistic tentacles to strike live moving prey (“Tentacles Go Ballistic” or TGB moment). We designed and tested a mechanical device that presented prey in a controlled manner, taking advantage of a key stimulus for feeding: motion of the prey. High-speed video recordings show a rapid transition into TSPs starting 114 ms before TGB (N = 114). TSPs are then suppressed as early as 470–500 ms after TGB (P < 0.05) in unsuccessful hunts, while persisting for at least 3 s after TGB in successful hunts. A granularity analysis revealed significant differences in the large-scale high-contrast body patterning present in TSPs compared to the camouflage body pattern deployed beforehand. TSPs best fit the category of secondary defense called deimatic displaying, meant to briefly startle predators and interrupt their attack sequence while cuttlefish are distracted by striking prey. We characterize TSPs as a pattern category for which the main distinguishing feature is a high-contrast signaling pattern with aspects of Acute Conflict Mottle or Acute Disruptive Pattern. The data and methodology presented here open opportunities for quantifying the rapid neural responses in this visual sensorimotor set of behaviors.


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How to Cite

Kim D, Buresch KC, Hanlon RT, Kampff AR. An experimental method for evoking and characterizing dynamic color patterning of cuttlefish during prey capture. J Biol Methods [Internet]. 2022Jun.14 [cited 2022Oct.6];9(2):e161. Available from: