Featured Image Credit: Justine Allen & Derya Akkaynak
Like many other species around the world, it may not be much of a surprise to learn that cuttlefish can be pretty protective of their mates, and with males of the species vastly outnumbering the females, the competition only makes for mating season to be a little bit tougher.
And scuffles naturally occur— although rarely witnessed outside of any lab or testing. But one such fight was caught on camera in 2011 by researchers Dr. Derya Akkaynak from University of Haifa in Israel and Dr. Justine Allen, now graduated with a PhD in neuroscience from the Brown University-Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL).
They’ve recently published the video and their analysis of the video along with the behavior to the online research journal American Naturalist.
At the beginning of the video, the captions describe how the team was following and filming a female cuttlefish, with a male coming in sometime later and managing to mate with the female for up to 4 minutes.
Then, he begins swimming just above her in a practice known as “mate-guarding”, which is to protect the female, now carrying genetics for his offspring, until she lays her eggs a few hours later.
This can often be interrupted, though, just like how it is in this case; with another, larger-looking male deciding to try his luck with the female. They have a quick quarrel at first, and the first male was rushed off, the second beginning to “guard” the female.
The first little guy didn’t give up, though, coming back and continuing to fight, this time much more aggressively despite the “intruder” male attempting to push him away using one of his outer arms.
Finally, the real showdown occurred when the first male started inking and then attacked— both grabbing hold of each other and wrangling in the water for a few moments.
Although it’s not obvious at first, there were many more ‘underlying’ signs of their communication than merely the guarding, or the fighting. Dr. Allen, who is now an alumni as well as an adjunct instructor at Brown University, shared that, “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. … Most of these battles are actually these beautiful, stunning skin displays. It’s a vicious war of colors.”
In the end, almost like any good story might end, the first male came out on top and rejoined the female, resuming their swim.