Learned control of body patterning in cuttlefishSepia officinalis (Cephalopoda)


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Learned control of body patterning in cuttlefishSepia officinalis (Cephalopoda)
Alexander R. Hough, John Case, Jean Geary Boal 2016 (subscription Journal of Molluscan Studies)

Cephalopods show excellent camouflaged body patterning, but they also use body patterning for communication. It is not known whether body patterning responses can be shaped by learning. Here, we tested the hypothesis that cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) can be conditioned to change their body pattern for a food reward. Cuttlefish were placed in a tank (all black or all white) and allowed to acclimate and settle into camouflaged body patterning (matching the tank colour). In each trial, a contrasting probe (white or black) was inserted into the tank. Experimental cuttlefish received a food reward if they broke camouflage (e.g. displayed light body patterning in the black tank or displayed dark body patterning in the white tank) within 15 s of the insertion of the probe; control cuttlefish received food rewards at random intervals. Experimental cuttlefish changed their body patterning more quickly and more consistently in response to the probe than did control cuttlefish, but only when they were trained in the black tank. We conclude that cuttlefish body patterning is not entirely innate, can be shaped by individual experience and appears to be more flexible than previous research has suggested.