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Courting cuttlefish dons drag to keep off rivals

Posted on behalf of Cosmas Butunyi.

To fight off competition for a partner that it is courting, a male mourning cuttlefish — an ink-spewing marine animal that resembles an octopus — transforms the half of its body not facing its would-be paramour to take up female characteristics while still displaying mating patterns with the side nearest her. This allows it to pretend it is not a rival to another nearby male while still covertly courting.

Scientists in Australia have observed the cuttlefish’s unique behaviour, which they call ‘tactical deception’, in the laboratory and in the wild.

“The use of tactical deception has evolved specifically to allow males more time to court females under intense competition from other males,” says Culum Brown, a fish biologist at Macquarie University in Sydney and one of the researchers involved in the study.

The study, published in Biology Letters today, finds that the cuttlefish and other cephalopods have a very well-developed brain compared to fellow molluscs. “They also display a range of very advanced behavioural patterns, including tool use, tactical deception, as here, and sophisticated communications systems,” says Brown.

However, the mourning cuttlefish only resorted to this behaviour when there was a single rival in the vicinity during courtship. When there was more than one present, it refrained — suggesting it feared being punished by larger males when its deception was discovered, the researchers say.


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