Thursday, June 5, 2014

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Found on muddy substrate in waters off Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Australia, the aptly named flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) is an irresistible subject for underwater photographers. Reaching a mere 8 centimeters in length, this colorful little cephalopod hunts tiny fish and crustaceans using two modified feeding tentacles. The "cuttlebone," the chalky inner structure that cuttlefish use for buoyancy, is very small in this species. Therefore, the flamboyant does not hover in midwater, but rather "walks" on the seafloor using 3 pairs of fleshy flaps on its underside.
Being a very poor swimmer, the flamboyant cuttlefish relies primarily on it's vibrant colors for defense. When threatened, it flashes bright hues of red, yellow, and magenta, while pulsing pale patches of color down its sides in a cloud-like fashion. Despite the obvious message of this aposematic coloration, it remained uncertain whether or not the flamboyant cuttlefish was actually poisonous. This question was answered when cephalopod specialist Mark Norman sampled the flamboyant's muscle tissues. He found that they contain a toxin as deadly as that of the infamous blue ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) This is the first recorded example of a poisonous cuttlefish. The toxin belongs to an entirely new class of poisons, which may prove groundbreaking in human medical research. Note: To see these amazing mollusks in action, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium's new exhibit: "Tentacles."

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