Tuesday, November 25, 2014

You Shouldn't Eat That: Flamboyant Cuttlefish.

I should really do more of these. The internet is a wonderful place, bombing us with weird nature facts all the time. In particular, I'm a fan of the work of Zefrank1 on YouTube. Here, have one of his videos on cuttlefish: 

For those of you who are not already aware, cuttlefish are total bosses. Along with octopus and squid, they rank among the smartest of mollusks. Their brains are larger than their bodies - referring to the squishy 'head' and tentacles, in case you were confused exactly how that works. Also, their amazingly sharp eyes look like someone's marbles that got lost in the ocean. If need be, they can, like squid, jet themselves away from danger. They are masters of changing color and texture to blend in anywhere - even in darkness that the human eye cannot see. 

And then there is this thing: 

Credit to Monterey Bay Aquarium for the image. 

It's called a flamboyant cuttlefish, or Pfeffer's flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) if you wanna give credit where credit is due. It's found in the warmer waters of the Philippines, Indonesia, and Australia (which should just start advertising itself as real World of Warcraft already - oh, and no respawn). Like all cuttlefish, it is predatory, eating things like crab and fish. Since this is a very small cuttlefish - only about 3 inches long - it only eats very small things. 

Again, I'm sure I've done things on cuttlefish before, but it's been a while. Normally, cuttlefish hover above coral or whatever their prey happens to be on. They can do that because of the thick, inner shell called a cuttlebone that helps with buoyancy. The flamboyant cuttlefish has a proportionately tiny cuttlebone, meaning that it can only stay afloat for a short time. 

Without that cuttlebone to keep it afloat like a UFO, what does it do? It struts around like a dinosaur on the bottom of the ocean floor while tasting the rainbow. This...is not camouflage. We humans think it's amusing that anything walks like people, or even tries to, but being bipedal and flashy on the sands of the ocean floor is not a survival strategy in and of itself. 

So, let's recap: this thing is tiny, cannot swim well, eats whatever small thing it can find, changes color, has a brain bigger than the rest of its body...and yet it waltzes around like nothing on earth is going to hurt it. (Disclaimer: the writer is not factoring in alien species, and cuttlefish are darn close to aliens.) What's the catch? 

For once, it's okay to be purple. 

It is terrifyingly poisonous. 

I've heard and read mixed things about cephalopods being poisonous in general. The video I linked above, for example, mentions that all cephalopods have some level of venom. They do, from what I can tell, but in most cases, it's not at all threatening to humans. The flamboyant cuttlefish will actually kill you if you eat it. It is on par with the blue-ringed octopus in terms of how poisonous it is. By this, I mean it'll kill you dead in a matter of minutes if you catch it on a bad day. Eating one is always a bad day. 

Did I mention that cuttlefish, including these flamboyant ones, sometimes use their colorful, magical powers to 'crossdress?' Sort of like with anacondas, the female cuttlefish mate with many males at a time, and some smaller males sneak into the orgy by pretending to be females. Bring that up at Valentine's Day (or Turkey Day) and see how many people you impress.