Half Truths

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Science  20 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6092, pp. 270
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6092.270-b
CREDIT: BROWN ET AL., BIOL. LETT. 8, 10.1098/RSBL.2012.0435 (2012)

Deception is complicated because it requires the cognitive skills to both assess the potential for its efficacy and to carry it off. Cephalopods are known masters of deceptive behavior, often using camouflage as a way to rapidly mimic their environment, or even other organisms, in their attempts to avoid predation. Brown et al. now show that mourning cuttlefish (Sepia plangon) have taken this exceptional deceptive ability a step farther than mere run-of-the-mill camouflage. In most cuttlefish species, courting males assume a particular coloration when attempting to mate with females. This coloration attracts females but can also attract rival males, who may displace the courting male. In order to avoid attracting these potential competitors but still maintain the female's attention, males will often perform split coloration displays. They mimic female coloration on the side of their bodies facing a rival, while displaying male courtship coloration on the side facing the female. Males perform this split display only when they are approached by a single male, presumably because it is only under these circumstances that they are able to maintain an appropriately deceptive angle. These results confirm the idea that mimicry can be highly advantageous in many contexts and suggest that these types of social and deceptive interactions may have helped to shape the high cognitive functioning of cephalopods.

Biol. Lett. 8, 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0435 (2012).

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