Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cuttlefish for Kids

One of my friends just got this e-mail from his nephew, and forwarded it on to me, the cephalopodiatrist:

I am doing a 2nd grade report on cuttlefish. I need to learn more about them. Such as what color they are, their size, and why they are different from other animals. I picked the cuttlefish because I like squids. I also want to learn where the cuttlefish lives and hides, what it eats and how it catches it, and how it uses camouflage to catch its food.

So far so cool. The second-grader likes squid, has heard of cuttlefish, and is savvy about camouflage. Excellent. His final query:

Also, does it eat people or boats?

Hmm. How do you read that sentence?
1. "Does it eat people or boats?"
2. "Does it eat people or boats?"

I gravitate toward the second, but suspect the child's intention was the first.

My response, for the interested:

I can't wait to tell your nephew how adult cuttlefish reach the size of oil platforms and prefer boats to people.

Er, ahem. I mean, cuttlefish are awesome and fairly innocuous. I did once get bitten by a very frightened cuttlefish in Australia (we had just pulled it out of the water in a net) but I didn't even bleed. The cuttlefish was about the size of both my fists together, and its beak was about the size of my thumbnail.

Neither people nor boats have anything to fear from cuttlefish, squid, or octopuses. They can bite if they are trapped and scared, but they would rather run away. They can get rather large, though. There is a Giant Squid, a Giant Octopus, and a Giant Cuttlefish. The giant squid reaches 40 feet long, the giant octopus 15 feet, and the giant cuttlefish . . . a stunning one and a half feet!

So you see, cuttlefish really are the babies of Class Cephalopoda. They are much too small to eat people or boats even if they were so inclined. And most species of cuttlefish are even smaller than the giant cuttlefish. They are all predators, so they eat other animals: usually crabs, shrimps, and little fish. I heard a great story about a cuttlefish flashing black and white stripes very quickly over its skin while hunting a crab. The people who saw this thought that the cuttlefish was trying to mesmerize the crab so it couldn't run away, but that's a hard theory to prove!

In general, we know that cuttlefish use their incredible color-changing abilities to hide from predators (they are delicious snacks for lots of fish and dolphins) and to communicate with each other.

For more information, great photos and video, check out Nova's cuttlefish website.

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