★ In this study, we examine the effects of 3D objects on cuttlefish camouflage. ★ Cuttlefish respond to the presence of high contrast 3D objects by masquerading as the 3D object by generally resembling the object using the appropriate body pattern. ★ A cuttlefish's preference to resemble 3D objects rather than the benthic substrate depends on the contrast of benthic substrate and 3D object.
Cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis, commonly use their visually-guided, rapid adaptive camouflage for multiple tactics to avoid detection or recognition by predators. Two common tactics are background matching and resembling an object (masquerade) in the immediate area. This laboratory study investigated whether cuttlefish preferentially camouflage themselves to resemble a three-dimensional (3D) object in the immediate visual field (via the mechanism of masquerade/deceptive resemblance) rather than the 2D benthic substrate surrounding them (via the mechanisms of background matching or disruptive coloration). Cuttlefish were presented with a combination of benthic substrates (natural rocks or artificial checkerboard and grey printouts) and 3D objects (natural rocks or cylinders with artificial checkerboards and grey printouts glued to the outside) with visual features known to elicit each of three camouflage body pattern types (Uniform, Mottle and Disruptive). Animals were tested for a preference to show a body pattern appropriate for the 3D object or the benthic substrate. Cuttlefish responded by masquerading as the 3D object, rather than resembling the benthic substrate, only when presented with a high-contrast object on a substrate of lower contrast. Contrast is, therefore, one important cue in the cuttlefish's preference to resemble 3D objects rather than the benthic substrate.