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Cuttle what? Is it an Eel? Nope. An octopus? Closer. Want a hint? It can change colors faster than you can say.....

Is it an eel? Nope. An octopus? Closer. Want a hint? It can change colors faster than you can say ...

Near the rocky ocean bottom off the coast of southern Australia, a big green-orange creature drifts through the water. When its sharp eyes spot a diver wearing a yellow air tank, it swims over to check him out. The curious creature seems drawn to the brightly colored tank.

For the next few minutes, it slowly circles the diver. First it puffs up and then flattens its arms as it flashes some bright colors of its own.

What is this weird creature? And why does it change colors like that? Read on to find out!

Wiggly Wizards

The amazing creatures shown here are giant cuttlefish. Don't let the name fool you--cuttlefish aren't really fish at all. Instead, they belong to the same group of animals as octopuses and squids. There are about 150 species (kinds) of cuttlefish in the world, and the giant cuttlefish is the biggest. It may grow to be four feet (1.2 m) long.

Like an octopus or a squid, a cuttlefish has lots of wiggly parts. Eight long arms and two longer tentacles (TEN-tuh-kulls) grow out from around its mouth. The tentacles are kept coiled up in pouches under the arms. When a tasty shrimp or crab wanders by--zap!--the cuttlefish shoots out its tentacles and nabs the prey. Then it wraps its arms around the food to help hold it tightly.

Cuttlefish also use their arms to send messages. The male cuttlefish in the photo above is wiggling his arms about, telling other animals, Back off!

Another cool part of a cuttlefish is its eye. The animal has super sharp eyesight. And its ripply eyelid (center photo) lets it control how much light reaches the eyeball.

Cuttlefish are wizards at changing their looks. It all starts with little, stretchy sacs under their skin. The sacs come in different colors, such as yellow, red, black, or brown. (See the brown dots around the eye shown below?)

By making some sacs larger and others smaller, a cuttlefish can change the colors of its entire body, or it can make different patterns. The two photos at right are of the same cuttlefish, taken one second apart!

A cuttlefish uses its quick-change skills for different reasons. If a hungry shark or dolphin comes snooping around, a cuttlefish can change colors to match its surroundings. In an instant, it seems to disappear! But sometimes a male cuttlefish may puff up and flash different colors. Instead of hiding, he's showing off to another male by saying, "I'm bigger and tougher than you!"

Cuttlefish may show off to divers too. By flashing different colors and puffing up its arms, a cuttlefish may tell a diver, "You can look at me--but don't mess with me!"

Eat . . . and Be Eaten

Cuttlefish hunt for food along the bottom of the ocean. The hungry one on the left has nabbed a crunchy crab and is clutching it with its arms. It may tear the crab to bits with its sharp, parrot-like beak. Or it might make a hole in the shell and scoop the crabmeat out with its tongue.

Cuttlefish eat crabs, but--oops! Crabs also eat cuttlefish! In the small photo at far left, a giant spider crab is nibbling on a cuttlefish that has already died.

Fighting and Mating

When it's time to mate, a male cuttlefish looks for a safe egg-laying spot in a cave or under a ledge. Another male may come along and want the same spot. Then the two puff up and circle each other (below) until one of them backs off. Their showy fight is usually more colorful than violent.

If a female finds a male protecting a safe spot, she may mate with him. Then she lays her eggs there and swims off (see photo of eggs at far left). About four months later, the eggs are ready to hatch.

The baby cuttlefish at left has made a hole in its egg and popped out. (Another baby is shown still in its egg.)

As the young cuttlefish grow up, they'll cruise around, keeping a sharp eye out for hungry predators, tasty prey--and colorful divers!
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Wildlife Federation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:cuttlefish
Author:Pacos, Chode; Bavendam, Fred
Publication:Ranger Rick
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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