Professor Culum Brown and collaborators, from Macquarie University, in Sydney, Australia, have discovered an uncanny ability in the male mourning cuttlefish (Sepia plangon). They can simultaneously look sexy for a female, while deceiving a competing male into believing they are a female. Their work is published online today in Biology Letters.
Cephalopods are among the smartest known invertebrates, and the current research adds a novel behavior: strategic cheating. As Prof. Brown tells The Munich Times (TMT), "Previously we have thought that this strategic cheating/deception was only found in big/brained very smart animals", like primates and some birds, but the results from this work clearly suggest that the cuttlefish brain has been underestimated. "This is a considerable achievement for an invertebrate and one that is closely related to snails!"
While cheating is well-known in many animals, including cuttlefish, strategic cheating is quite new. "Here the males are being males on one side and pretending to be females on the other side and they use this display only in a very particular social context," continues Prof. Brown. This type of cheating is very rare, and the specific context in which it was used, the authors argue, may be unique, not only among cuttlefish but among all animals.
"It pays to cheat: tactical deception in a cephalopod social signaling system" DOI:10.1098/rsbl.2012.0435.
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