Female impersonation as an alternative reproductive strategy in giant cuttlefish

  • Norman M
  • Finn J
  • Tregenza T
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Abstract

Out of all the animals, the cephalopods possess an unrivalled ability to change their shape and body patterns. Our observations of giant cuttle�sh (Sepia apama) suggest this ability has allowed them to evolve alternative mating strategies in which males can switch between the appearance of a female and that of a male in order to foil the guarding attempts of larger males. At a mass breeding aggregation in South Australia, we repeatedly observed single small males accompanying mating pairs. While doing so, the small male assumed the body shape and patterns of a female. Such males were never attacked by the larger mate-guarding male. On more than 20 occasions, when the larger male was distracted by another male intruder, these small males, previously indistinguishable from a female, were observed to change body pattern and behaviour to that of a male in mating display. These small males then attempted to mate with the female, often with success. This potential for dynamic sexual mimicry may have played a part in driving the evolution of the remarkable powers of colour and shape transformation which characterize the cephalopods.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Alternative mating strategy
  • Cephalopod
  • Giant cuttlefish
  • Mimicry
  • Sepia apama
  • Spencer Gulf

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