Video of male cuttlefish in vicious battle over a female


Researchers have filmed two male cuttlefish fighting over a female mate. 

The video, taken in the Aegean Sea, shows the males raising their arms, changing their skin colors and dilating their pupils in a show of strength.

When the challenging male tried to mate with the female, the two males began grappling each other and spurting huge amounts of ink in an epic showdown. 

The encounter was filmed by Dr Derya Akkaynak of the University of Haifa in Israel, and Dr Justine Allen, then a PhD student in the Brown University-Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in 2011, with MBL Senior Scientist Dr Roger Hanlon.

Dr Hanlon was ‘ecstatic’ when he saw the footage, he said. 

Although researchers have studied cuttlefish mating behavior and competition before in the lab, observing male-male fighting and mate guarding in the wild has been rare. 

The battle began right after the two researchers filmed a male and female cuttlefish mating and then swimming together for five minutes, while the male guarded the female

The battle began right after the two researchers filmed a male and female cuttlefish mating and then swimming together for five minutes, while the male guarded the female

The battle began right after the two researchers filmed a male and female cuttlefish mating and then swimming together for five minutes, while the male guarded the female

‘This was a totally serendipitous video sequence that I had been searching for nonstop for 20 years,’ Dr Hanlon said.

The battle began right after the two researchers filmed a male and female cuttlefish mating and then swimming together for five minutes, while the male guarded the female. 

Shortly after, a second male appeared approaching the female, and the battle commenced with both males spurting ink.

The first male managed to spin the intruder in three rapid barrel rolls, and the intruder male slipped free and swam away

The first male managed to spin the intruder in three rapid barrel rolls, and the intruder male slipped free and swam away

The first male managed to spin the intruder in three rapid barrel rolls, and the intruder male slipped free and swam away

The two began battling by raising their stiff arms, dilating their w-shaped pupils and flashing their skin colors.

‘They have a whole repertoire of behaviors that they use to signal to each other, and we’re just barely starting to understand some of them,’ said Dr Allen, now an adjunct instructor at Brown University. 

‘Most of these battles are actually these beautiful, stunning skin displays.

‘It’s a vicious war of colors.’

HOW CUTTLEFISH CHANGE THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN  

The skin of cuttlefish have cells containing striped structures.

These structures have a layer of pigmented sacs called chromatophores as well as a layer of reflecting plates called iridophores.

By contracting and relaxing muscles attached to chromatophores they can control the amount of pigment revealed.

Illustration of various aggressive patterning  and postural agonistic behaviors. The average time (in seconds) it takes for these behaviors to be presented  is presented below the signal labels 

Illustration of various aggressive patterning  and postural agonistic behaviors. The average time (in seconds) it takes for these behaviors to be presented  is presented below the signal labels 

Illustration of various aggressive patterning  and postural agonistic behaviors. The average time (in seconds) it takes for these behaviors to be presented  is presented below the signal labels 

Finding ways to mimic this optical trickery has received a lot of attention in recent years.

A group at the University of Bristol recently created artificial muscles and chromatophores using elastic plastic material that responds to an electrical stimulus. 

When the second male stole the female away and hovered over her with the intention to mate, the battle escalated. 

The first male approached the pair, and the second male extended his fourth arm out towards him. 

In response to being challenged, the second male darkened his face and zebra banding, which are signs of aggression.  

It escalated into a fight with inking, biting and grappling, while the second intruder male tried to keep hold of the female with his arms before she freed herself. 

When the second male stole the female away and hovered over her with the intention to mate, the battle escalated. The first male approached the pair, and the second male extended his fourth arm out towards him

When the second male stole the female away and hovered over her with the intention to mate, the battle escalated. The first male approached the pair, and the second male extended his fourth arm out towards him

When the second male stole the female away and hovered over her with the intention to mate, the battle escalated. The first male approached the pair, and the second male extended his fourth arm out towards him

The first male managed to spin the intruder in three rapid barrel rolls, and the intruder male slipped free and swam away.  

In the end, Dr Hanlon filmed the first male reuniting with his mate. 

The researchers’ analysis and comparison of the filmed encounter to lab results suggests the behavior fits the ‘mutual assessment’ model of game theory. 

This is when each individual evaluates his or her next action based on his/her opponent’s ability to prevail, rather than just his/her own strength. 

In response to being challenged, the second male darkened his face and zebra banding, which are signs of aggression. It escalated into a fight with inking, biting and grappling, while the second intruder male tried to keep hold of the female with his arms before she freed herself 

In response to being challenged, the second male darkened his face and zebra banding, which are signs of aggression. It escalated into a fight with inking, biting and grappling, while the second intruder male tried to keep hold of the female with his arms before she freed herself 

In response to being challenged, the second male darkened his face and zebra banding, which are signs of aggression. It escalated into a fight with inking, biting and grappling, while the second intruder male tried to keep hold of the female with his arms before she freed herself 

These findings were intriguing to Dr Hanlon as he says this type of behavior requires more cognitive ability. 

Dr Hanlon said that this game theory analysis is an important step in studying aggression, which still remains poorly understood. 

‘Aggression is a major part of many societal problems, but it’s a very touchy subject,’ Dr Hanlon said. 

‘This field observation and game theory analysis sets up a way to do lab experiments differently. 

‘I’m hoping we can put animals in the tank [to study aggression] based on this field assessment.’ 

Dr Justine Allen and a cuttlefish in the Aegean Sea. Dr Allen, a researcher at Brown University, and Dr Derya Akkaynak of the University of Haifa in Israel, filmed the video alongside Marine Biological Laboratory Senior Scientist Dr Roger Hanlon

Dr Justine Allen and a cuttlefish in the Aegean Sea. Dr Allen, a researcher at Brown University, and Dr Derya Akkaynak of the University of Haifa in Israel, filmed the video alongside Marine Biological Laboratory Senior Scientist Dr Roger Hanlon

Dr Justine Allen and a cuttlefish in the Aegean Sea. Dr Allen, a researcher at Brown University, and Dr Derya Akkaynak of the University of Haifa in Israel, filmed the video alongside Marine Biological Laboratory Senior Scientist Dr Roger Hanlon



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