In Sydney harbor, courting cuttlefish dress to deceive

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 04, 2012 3:04 AM
In Sydney harbor, courting cuttlefish dress to deceive

SYDNEY (Reuters) - In a tricky display of courting derring-do, a species of cuttlefish living in Sydney harbor woos its mate and fools rivals at one and the same time, all by the colors it flashes.

Researchers at Macquarie University said the male of the "Mourning Cuttlefish," or Sepia Plangon, in Sydney harbor can display both male and female colors at the same time - in essence, seeming to be both.

"Showing his true male colors towards the female to woo her, he will at the same time mimic female colors to the rival male to disguise the courtship," researcher Martin Garwood told Reuters.

The behavior was detected only when a group consisted of two males and one females - and in those circumstances it took place 39 percent of the time.

The male cuttlefish display a striped zebra pattern while the female has a circular mottled pattern of white, yellow, black and green.

The courting male can show both at the same time, positioning himself between the female and the rival male and then waiting until his wooing succeeds, often as long as an hour - a considerable time in the wild.

Cuttlefish seduction can't be rushed, Garwood added.

"It can take a while to win the female's heart. By deceiving the rival male the deceptive male can get the job done without being interrupted or challenged," he added.

"This behavior where they can show male and female colors simultaneous has not been seen before... that's pretty unique."

Despite the vast and obvious differences, this behavior brings to mind the complex social system and hierarchy of human beings, Garwood said.

"Cuttlefish living such a complex little social life where they have to deceive each other and figure a smart way to get a girl, there's kind of a similarity between those two social systems," he added.

(Reporting by Pauline Askin, editing by Elaine Lies)