Basic Camouflage Patterns in Cuttlefish

Camouflage works in two basic ways. It can allow the animal to match its background and become nearly invisible to observers. Animals can also make it appear as though part of their body is separated from the rest of its body. Most animals, including cuttlefish, use both of these strategies to survive (Shohet et al., 2007). There are three basic camouflage patterns that cuttlefish use to create the myriad of patterns they display. These building block patterns are uniform, mottled, and disruptive (Kelman et al., 2008; Shohet et al., 2007; Barbosa et al., 2008).

Uniform: this patterning is used to achieve background resemblance, making the cuttlefish virtually invisible. The cuttlefish exhibits one uniform color over its entire body. In laboratory studies, when cuttlefish were placed against a uniform background, they displayed this uniform patterning (Shohet et al., 2007; Barbosa et al., 2008).

Mottled: this patterning is used when there is a slight contrast between light and dark areas in the background. This type of camouflage manifests itself as small light and dark areas on the skin. In the laboratory, cuttlefish exhibited this pattern when placed on a background that had small light and dark checkerboard squares (Barbosa et al., 2008).


Night Camouflage
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Sepia officinalis displaying a mottled pattern. Image courtesy Dr. Osorio (Shohet et al., 2007)

Disruptive: this patterning is used when there are distinct objects in the background (the background isn't relatively uniform). When using disruptive camouflage, cuttlefish display irregular patches of different shape, size, orientation, contrast, and color on their bodies. This patterning was used by cuttlefish in the lab when they were placed on backgrounds with big light and dark checkerboard squares (Barbosa et al., 2008; Shohet et al., 2007).


Cuttlefish displaying disruptive patterning. Image courtesy of Dr. Mäthger. (Mäthger et al., 2006)


*It is important to realize that cuttlefish do not use one of these patterns exclusively, but instead they often use a combination of these patterns (Shohet et al., 2007; Kelman et al., 2008; Barbosa et al., 2008).

In addition to these three basic body patterns cuttlefish body patterns can be described by the duration of time they are displayed. Cuttlefish can exhibit either chronic or acute body patterns (Kelman et al., 2008).

Chronic: this term refers to long term, stable expression of a pattern. Chronic body patterning is typically displayed when trying to blend in with the environment (Kelman et al., 2008).

Acute: this refers to short term expression of a pattern. This short term use is seen when a cuttlefish is attempting to escape a predator. In this case, the cuttlefish will put on a dazzling light and color display to stun/distract the predator (Cuthill; Kelman et al., 2008). Acute patterns are also used in communication between cuttlefish (Kelman et al., 2008).


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