Cuttlefish males prefer mysterious mate, on-heat females available

November 18, 2014, Macquarie University
Credit: Professor Roger Hanlon

A new study has investigated the mating preferences of the giant Australian cuttlefish, finding that females were most receptive if they had not recently mated, while male cuttlefish demonstrated a preference for unfamiliar females.

This research suggests that distinct selection pressures may be driving different discrimination capabilities in the sexes, and provides the first empirical evidence of familiarity discrimination in a cephalopod species.

"The giant Australian cuttlefish, Sepia apama, seek multiple mates during breeding, yet the discrimination tactics used to assess mates are still unknown," said lead researcher Alexandra Schnell.

"Many animal species choose amongst potential mates in a highly selective fashion, exhibiting strong preferences for specific mates and ignoring others.

"Choosing a mate can be an iterative process, which involves signalling by both sexes, assessment of mate quality and making a decision to mate or to seek other reproductive opportunities."

The outcome of mate choice may depend on a series of assessments, including:

  • Sexual receptivity
  • Mating history
  • Familiarity of a potential mate.

The research team combined field observations and laboratory-controlled mating experiments to test the effects of female receptivity, mating history and familiarity on mating behaviour.

Female mating history appeared to predict their likelihood of mating, because female cuttlefish that had not recently mated were more likely to perform receptive behaviours and less likely to express non-receptive signals. Familiarity with the males did not affect female receptivity.

In male cuttlefish, mated behaviour was not affected by female receptivity; however, familiarity with the female did affect male behaviour. Males exerted a strong preference for unfamiliar , providing evidence of .

Explore further: Male St. Andrew's Cross spiders sniff web pheromones to determine suitability of female mates

More information: Schnell, A; Smith, C; Hanlon, R; Harcourt, R. "Female receptivity, mating history, and familiarity influence the mating behaviour of cuttlefish", Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology, November 2014.

Related Stories

'Paranoia' about rivals alters insect mating behavior

August 8, 2011

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have found that male fruitflies experience a type of 'paranoia' in the presence of another male, which doubles the length of time they mate with a female, despite the female of the ...

Reversal of the black widow myth

May 6, 2013

The Black Widow spider gets its name from the popular belief that female spiders eat their male suitors after mating. However, a new study has shown that the tendency to consume a potential mate is also true of some types ...

Recommended for you

Looking beyond genes to explain blood cells' fates

March 19, 2018

Scientists often talk about cell fate and commitment in terms of mechanisms that control gene expression (transcription factors, chromatin remodeling, etc.). But by studying Diamond-Blackfan anemia (DBA), rare genetic blood ...

Drawing inspiration from plants and animals to restore tissue

March 19, 2018

Researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed new wound dressings that dramatically accelerate healing ...

Researchers measure gene activity in single cells

March 16, 2018

For biologists, a single cell is a world of its own: It can form a harmonious part of a tissue, or go rogue and take on a diseased state, like cancer. But biologists have long struggled to identify and track the many different ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.