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Flamboyant cuttlefish

Flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfeffer)

On Exhibit: Tentacles

Animal Facts

  • Scientific Name

    Metasepia pfefferi

  • Animal Type

    Octopuses & Kin

  • Diet

    small shrimps, fish and crabs

  • Size

    to 3.1 inches (8 cm)

  • Relatives

    octopuses, squid, other cuttlefish; Class: Cephalopoda; Order: Sepioida; Family: Sepiidae

  • Habitat

    Coral Reefs

  • Range

    Papua New Guinea and the Philippines to northern Australia

At the Aquarium

Native to coastal mudflats in northern Australia, the flamboyant cuttlefish has been difficult to obtain and exhibit. We're one of only a few aquariums that have ever displayed this colorful species. "It's not easy to find in the wild," says Aquarist Bret Grasse, one of our main cuttle keepers. "We've been trying to get them for years."

One challenge has been the delicate nature of the gossamer-looking animals. So Bret developed a cushioned, netted enclosure to keep them safe.

"We've raised many generations of flamboyant cuttlefish now," says Brett. "It gives me great satisfaction, and it's aligned with the mission of the Aquarium, and our desire not to remove wild stock from the ocean. We've cultured and given away well over 1,000 cuttlefish to other institutions!"

Natural History

The flamenco dancer of the cuttlefish world, the flamboyant cuttlefish is a perpetual color machine, continually flashing vibrant yellow, maroon, brown, white and red along its body. "Within seconds of emerging from the egg, they show these beautiful dark markings contrasting with brilliant pink tentacles," says Brett. "It's incredible—unmatched in the animal kingdom!"

This small but feisty cuttlefish can be found walking along the seafloor on arms and fins—a rarer mode of transit for these otherwise adept swimmers. Unlike other cuttlefish species, the flamboyant cuttlefish doesn't dart away when threatened. It remains stationary, flashes its hypnotic color scheme and pulses its fins. Its bold coloration has long been suspected of signaling toxicity, but recent research hasn't found evidence to support the claim. It's possible the bright coloration is more of an elaborate bluff than a deadly giveaway.

These cuttlefish live about a year, and eat a variety of foods. Babies are fed mysid and brine shrimp, and adults are fed fish, crabs and shrimp. They're one of the smaller cuttlefish species, at about eight centimeters.

Flamboyant cuttlefish are cephalopods related to squid, octopus and chambered nautilus. The cuttlefish's flat body allows it to live and hover near the ocean bottom where it finds its favorite food. An outer shell once covered the cuttlefish's body but has since evolved into a porous internal shell called a cuttlebone. The cuttlefish varies its buoyancy by varying the amount gas and liquid held in the holes of the shell.


As with other sea life, pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction pose serious threats to cephalopods. Habitat destruction, bottom trawling, pollution by runoff and saltation threaten cuttlefishes' environments.

Cool Facts

Males fight for choice mating dens. Most fights end without major injuries. After the males win their territory, female cuttlefish appear at the dens and mate with resident males. Fertilization is internal.

Face to face the cuttlefish embrace and the male uses a special arm to transfer a sperm packet into the female's mantle cavity. After mating, the female retreats deep within the den where she lays her eggs one at a time. She coats the eggs with a protective sheath and carefully cements them to the roof of the den. She leaves the eggs unattended to develop and to hatch on their own. The female dies shortly thereafter.

Cuttlebone is composed of calcium. This calcareous cuttlebone is often fed to birds to whet their beaks or as calcium supplements.

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