Wild cuttlefish love triangle caught on film for the first time

"Most of these battles are actually these beautiful, stunning skin displays," said researcher Justine Allen.

By Brooks Hays

May 2 (UPI) -- Who says chivalry is dead? In a newly published video, scientists share the first filmic evidence of a cuttlefish mating battle in the wild.

The love triangle was filmed in the Aegean Sea -- a Greek drama set underwater.


A pair of researchers were trailing a female cuttlefish when she met and mated with a male cuttlefish. While protecting his mate post-copulation, an intruder male swooped-in and attempted a sexual coup.

"This was a totally serendipitous video sequence that I had been searching for nonstop for 20 years," Roger Hanlon, a researcher at the Marine Biological Laboratory, said in a news release.

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Unwilling to lose his mate to an intruder, the first male challenged the second to a standoff. The standoff escalated into a physical confrontation.

Scientists have studied male-male tussles in the lab, the video is the first time scientists have been able to document mate-guarding behavior in the wild.

The bout began as most cuttlefish fights do, with escalating visual displays.

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Rival cuttlefish maneuver various body parts and flash their zebra-like stripes as a standoff grows tenser. With their mantle raised and the arms extended, the cuttlefish's body takes on the shape of a shovel. Cuttlefish also use a similar lateral display, which features one arm broadened and the rest stretched sideways.


"Most of these battles are actually these beautiful, stunning skin displays," researcher Justine Allen said. "It's a vicious war of colors."

Many standoffs end without physical contact, but not this one.

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As the video shows, the pair of cuttlefish engaged in a series barrel rolls and biting. The fracas was framed by clouds of dark ink sprayed by rivals. Eventually, the first cuttlefish successfully chased away the intruder and reunited with his mate.

Researchers hypothesize that male cuttlefish engage in "mutual assessment" model of game theory when taking on a rival -- squaring his abilities and potential actions against the abilities and future moves of his rival.

"Aggression is a major part of many societal problems, but it's a very touchy subject," Hanlon said. "This field observation and game theory analysis sets up a way to do lab experiments differently. I'm hoping we can put animals in the tank [to study aggression] based on this field assessment."

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