Dramatic fighting by male cuttlefish for a female mate

Justine J. Allen, Derya Akkaynak, Alexandra K. Schnell, Roger T. Hanlon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Male cuttlefish compete for females with a repertoire of visually dramatic behaviors. Laboratory experiments have explored this system in Sepia officinalis, but corroborative field data have eluded collection attempts by many researchers.While scuba diving in Turkey, we fortuitously filmed an intense sequence of consort/intruder behaviors in which the consort lost and then regained his female mate from the intruder. These agonistic bouts escalated in stages, leading to fast dramatic expression of the elaborate intense zebra display and culminating in biting and inking as the intruder male attempted a forced copulation of the female.When analyzed in the context of game theory, the patterns of fighting behavior were more consistent with mutual assessment than self-assessment of fighting ability. Additional observations of these behaviors in nature are needed to conclusively determine which models best represent conflict resolution, but our field observations agree with laboratory findings and provide a valuable perspective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-151
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
S. Akkaynak was a gracious host in Turkey, and E. Yellin was an invaluable diving partner; we are thankful for their unflagging support. Thanks to H. Singh for lending us the FlipCam and its housing and to A. Creamer and H. Lappen for help with data archiving. This work was improved by the constructive comments of two anonymous reviewers; we appreciate the time and effort they applied to their critiques. J.J.A. was supported by a National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate Fellowship and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship; A.K.S. was supported by a postdoctoral study grant from the Fyssen Foundation; R.T.H. was funded partly by the Sholley Foundation and supported by Office of Naval Research grant N0001406-1-0202.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 by The University of Chicago.


  • Agonistic
  • Behavior
  • Cephalopod
  • Evolutionary game theory
  • Sepia officinalis
  • Sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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