From February 2014 to February 2015, I collaborated with the Marine Biology Lab at Woods Hole, USA, to study cuttlefish, an invertebrate marine animal related to octopus and squid, from the perspective of neuroscience. My primary goal was to learn about their behaviour, how to take care of them, and how to modify our lab’s behaviour experiment setups for rats to work with cuttlefish. I took care of cuttlefish in all stages of their life cycle and even developed unique relationships with individuals.
Before I started any experiments, I spent most of my days feeding the cuttlefish hatchlings and cleaning their home tubs:
Taking care of the cuttlefish on a daily basis taught me a lot about their behaviour, especially their hunting behaviour. I tried out many different experimental setups to study their hunting behaviour more closely, and learned a lot about arduinos and cameras and how to film sea creatures before I came up with the final design of the Cuttle Shuttle experiment.
Many thanks to Kendra Buresch, Stephen Senft, Alex Schnell, Andrew Carvey, Arthur Petron, Troy McInerney, Kelsey Cramer, Corinne Cramer, Andrea Rummell, George Bell, Alan Kuzirian, Barbara Burbank, Lyda Harris, Dan Calzarette, and Roger T Hanlon for their support and assistance at Woods Hole during this project. Additional thanks to Adam Kampff and the Intelligent Systems lab for enabling and supporting this collaboration.
The active camouflage of coleoid cephalopods (cuttlefish, octopuses, and squids) presents an opportunity to non-invasively study whole organism behaviour and single-unit neural activity simultaneously, a possibility which is reviving the attention of neuroscience researchers in the 21st century [4, 8]. A rich body of literature, reaching back before the 1900s, describes the remarkable diversity of cuttlefish body patterns in great qualitative detail. However, to date there are no unambiguous mathematical definitions of these body patterns [3, 9]. In particular, there are very few quantitative characterisations of body pattern changes of cuttlefish outside the context of camouflage and background matching. This paper presents a low-cost and open-source method for reliably evoking “acute” (as opposed to “stable”, as defined by ), event-locked, and ethologically relevant changes to body pattern in captive Sepia officinalis, and offers a first step toward mathematically characterising these rapidly transient body patterns, in the hopes of accelerating the re-diversification of model species used in the study of how nervous systems control behaviour [6, 10]. In light of recent advances in highly accessible computer vision tools and techniques for tracking non-captive behaviour of a large diversity of species [1, 5, 7], the methodology presented here has great promise for use not only in the lab but also in the wild.
 J. M. Graving, D. Chae, H. Naik, L. Li, B. Koger, B. R. Costelloe, and I. D.Couzin. Deepposekit, a software toolkit for fast and robust animal poseestimation using deep learning.eLife, 8:e47994, 2019.
 R. T. Hanlon and J. B. Messenger. Adaptive coloration in young cuttlefish (sepia officinalis l.): the morphology and development of body patterns and their relation to behaviour. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. B, Biological Sciences, 1988.
 E. J. Kelman, D. Osorio, and R. J. Baddeley. A review of cuttlefish camouflage and object recognition and evidence for depth perception. Journal of Experimental Biology, 2008.
 A. Laan, T. Gutnick, M. J. Kuba, and G. Laurent. Behavioral analysis of cuttlefish traveling waves and its implications for neural control. Current Biology, 2014.
 G. Lopes, N. Bonacchi, J. Fraz˜ao, J. P. Neto, B. V. Atallah, S. Soares, L. Moreira, S. Matias, P. M. Itskov, P. A. Correia, R. E. Medina, L. Calcaterra, E. Dreosti, J. J. Paton, and A. R. Kampff. Bonsai: an event-based framework for processing and controlling data streams. Frontiers in neuroinformatics, 2015.
 P. R. Manger, J. Cort, N. Ebrahim, A. Goodman, J. Henning, M. Karolia, S.-L. Rodrigues, and G. ˇStrkalj. Is 21st century neuroscience too focussed on the rat/mouse model of brain function and dysfunction? Frontiers in Neuroanatomy, 2008.
 T. Nath, A. Mathis, A. C. Chen, A. Patel, M. Bethge, and M. W. Mathis. Using deeplabcut for 3d markerless pose estimation across species and behaviors. Nature Protocols, 2019.
 S. Reiter, P. H¨ulsdunk, T. Woo, M. A. Lauterbach, J. S. Eberle, L. A. Akay, A. Longo, J. Meier-Credo, F. Kretschmer, J. D. Langer, M. Kaschube, and G. Laurent. Elucidating the control and development of skin patterning in cuttlefish. Nature, 2018.
 M. Stevens and S. Merilaita. Defining disruptive coloration and distinguishing its functions. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society, 2008.
 M. M. Yartsev. The emperor’s new wardrobe: Rebalancing diversity of animal models in neuroscience research. Science, 2017.
Below are the latest drafts of the figures included in the academic paper I’ve written about this project, titled “The Cuttle Shuttle: reliably evoking acute, event-locked, and ethologically relevant changes to body pattern in captive Sepia officinalis” (full-text available soon on Bioarxiv!):
In this experiment, cuttlefish must hunt for their food 4 days out of 7; their prey is a piece of shrimp at the end of an arduino-controlled skewer. We wanted to ask the following questions:
Can cuttlefish hunt artificial prey? If so, how complex of an artificial prey can cuttlefish hunt?
Does the cuttlefish display a reliable sequence of body patterns when it first notices the prey?
Does the cuttlefish display a reliable sequence of body patterns when it catches its prey?
What are the firing dynamics of cuttlefish tentacles?
Want to get involved?
The most current draft of my experimental protocol.
Videos of the experimental sessions can be found online here:
Hunting Behaviour Ethogram
Below are acrylic models I made to show the main phases of a cuttlefish hunt:
Further information about analysis work on the Cuttle Shuttle video dataset can be found here.