Some people prefer strong vertical lines in their clothing over horizontal ones, as they can appear slimming. As for cuttlefish? According to a new MBL study, when these marine creatures adaptively change their skin patterns for camouflage purposes, they respond to vertical visual cues in their environment more strongly than to horizontal cues.

A cuttlefish next to a checked wall pattern displays adaptive camouflage. Photo courtesy of Kim Ulmer, MBL

A cuttlefish next to a checked wall pattern displays adaptive camouflage.
Photo courtesy of Kim Ulmer, MBL

The study, led by Kimberly Ulmer and Roger Hanlon in the MBL’s Program in Sensory Physiology and Behavior, is published in the April issue of the Biological Bulletin.

Many prior experiments have shown the influence of two-dimensional (2D) substrates, such as sand and gravel habitats, on camouflage, yet many marine habitats have three-dimensional (3D) structures, such as rocks and coral, among which cuttlefish camouflage from predators. In this study, Ulmer and Hanlon tested the relative influence of horizontal versus vertical visual cues on cuttlefish camouflage. They found that visual stimuli in the vertical dimension (2D or 3D) have a stronger influence on changeable camouflage than do 2D stimuli presented horizontally. This effect is noteworthy because in many of the experiments, the vertical stimuli represented only a small proportion of the total visual surrounds, indicating that cuttlefish are selectively responding to vertical cues.

Such choices highlight the selective decision-making that occurs in cuttlefish as they determine their camouflage body patterns.

Citation:

Ulmer KM, KC Buresch, MM Kossodo, LM Mathger, LA Siemann and RT Hanlon (2013) Vertical visual features have a strong influence on cuttlefish camouflage. Biological Bulletin 224: 110-118.