Nature Blog Network

Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Google Says

In an interesting Navel Gazing and Social experiment Rick MacPherson of Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice & Sunsets came up with a meme finding a number of search terms (other than the blog title) that result in a #1 google ranking for the blog. Somewhat predictably MBSLS came up # 1 on such searches as “coral reefs, conservation, queer” and "moray, rick". Somehow it also came up as the number one place to turn for “zelnio, conservation, blog, coral, drunk”.

I know Kevin and I long ago evolved into more or less responsible drinkers, but this is devastating news. Even though he is a friend, that's some important territory we need to win back from Rick. Kevin, we gotta do more drunk blogging about inverts and conservation! ;-)

Ok, while the scallop beer and lobster vodka chill, I'll respond to Rick's meme tag. It's a great excuse to procrastinate doing mindless GIS exercises.

First search is the obvious one:

  1. "zelnio heupel" or is that "heupel zelnio" #1 either way (yes, with google sometimes word order does matter)

  2. "chaetognath phylogeny" beat out some heavy hitters like the Tree of Life, Springerlink, and Oxford Journals.

  3. "barnacle evolution" scored another top spot with Kevins awesome tribute to Alan J. Southward and summary of a great paper on Barnacle Evolution

  4. "whale lice conservation" gets a nod as number one for the Quixotic mission to get Right Whale Lice listed as an endangered species

  5. the "Nobel Jelly" surprised me with a number 1 spot as well

  6. But then things get a bit weird:
  7. "sea squirt porn" a search phrase that also consistently shows up in our logs...weird! There must be a lot of lonely sea squirts out there tapping into the lab computers, or desperate tunicate researchers, or.. well I really don't want to know if it's not the one of the first two.

  8. "ostracod penis" got a top result, but not "ostracode penis" which only got a #2 result.

  9. "squirt en masse" was a number one result that I really don't even think I want to know about

  10. "sperm races" Beg pardon?! What? Oh, but that reminds me I need to set up the video to record those urchins, last time it was a photo finish

Looking through our logs some time ago I noticed "porn" was one of the top words that led people from Google to us so on a whim...I added "porn" to the end of a number of species we talk about and found out TO95% owns:
"whale lice porn" and "snail porn" with top ten results for "chaetognath porn", "mollusc porn", "cephalopod porn" and "arthropod porn". Interestingly Pharyngula beat us out on all of those except "arthropod porn" where Blackwell Synergy stomped our telsons.

So to be a meme it has to be self if they would like to participate, I'm asking The Brine Queen, Bobbie and Jerry, Jason and Peter to gaze into their navels through Google and see what floats to the top.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Apple giving some Coral Love

Trying out the new Safari 4 from apple and I noticed at the top of the Apple Startpage a news item for:

Inverts in iTunes...Cool!

Monitoring the health of coral reefs on iTunes U
February 27, 2009
Dr. John Turner, an endocrinologist at the University of Toledo, has been studying the health of coral reef ecosystems, since 1997. “Reef Monitor…

I haven't had much of a chance to look at it yet, (saving it for the flight down to Ft. Lauderdale), but it looks like a nice outreach product on Coral Reef impacts and health monitoring by Reef Monitor and endocrinologist John Turner out of the University of Toledo. Collecting fish poop to help monitor and protect the cnidarians. Cool.

Is there anywhere that collects all the ocean related podcasts and iTunes resources? Invertebrates?

If you know of an audio/video podcast for either leave a comment.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Martin Wells

I received the sad news today that Martin Wells, imminent biologist, one of the founders of Churchill College at the University of Cambridgeand, a great friend of the cephalopods and all marine invertebrates, has passed away at the age of 80. Son of H.G. Wells, Martin was a highly accomplished biologist who was especially inspired by cephalopods and other marine invertebrates. His wonderful book Civilization and the Limpet portrays his love marine life. While aimed at the general audience, it should be, in my opinion, required reading for any future (or current) marine or invertebrate biologist, indeed it would be good for anyone with any interest in biology. The first time I sat down with it, I read it in one evening, it is that readable and good.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Monday Movie: Pom Pom Crab (Lybia tessellata)

My perfect way to start the week would be a dive, but if I can't get in a dive, the next best thing is to enjoy a dive "virtually" (not nearly the same, but better than nothing!) So until I can go diving again on Monday mornings, I think I'll bring a dive video featuring some invertebrate, or invert community.

First up is the Pom Pom or Boxing Crab, Lybia sp., which carry around a pair of anemones (generally of Bunodeopsis or Triactis genuses) in their chelipeds. They use the anemone as a self defense weapon. Popular in marine aquariums, in the wild these crabs are found throughout the Indo-Pacific region, including a recently (2006) discovered species from French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Unfortunately br

This particular video was taken in Bunaken Marine Park, North Sulawesi, Indonesia, making the crab Lybia tessellata.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Clearing the Archives #1: Hermit Crabs

I'm trying to clear out my archives of accumulated photos I took over the last year. Most of these were to post on this blog but I was never able to get around to it or just plain ole forgot. I'm horrible when it comes to downloading my photos! So for the next few weeks I will post some of my pictures from my folder aptly titles "Needs to be Sorted". I'll write what I can recall of the photo.

The following hermit crabs were Steph's pets in our office at my former job at Penn State. They are absolutely adorable! I think we had 7 at one time. At least 2 different species. I don't remember what they were anymore. Nick, a grad student doing molecular ecology with corals, dumped off several small ones after snipping a claw from them for genetics. So I guess we were kind of a hermit crab sanctuary/rehabilitation clinic. I think hermit crabs might make the perfect first pet for Elliot. Probably a land crab.

Send in Your Circus of the Spineless Submissions!

The next edition of the Circus of the Spineless will be held at the Invertebrate Diaries. Send in your submissions from this month to edwbaker at googlemail dot com by Midnight GMT Saturday, February 28th. The Circus is scheduled for Monday, March 2. Looking forward to all the de-boned articles!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Work with an Invert! - Lawbstah Health

From the Crust-L:

Graduate Student Positions in Lobster Health

Looking for motivated and enthusiastic students to conduct MSc research in the area of lobster health at the AVC Lobster Science Centre (

Four (4) funded graduate training opportunities are currently available:

Three (3) projects involve the use of a recently developed American lobster (Homarus americanus) DNA microarray to explore changes in lobster gene expression; (i) during the moult cycle; (ii) to evaluate female reproductive status; and (iii) host-pathogen interactions (Aerococcus viridans and Anophryoides haemophila). The fourth project will examine the role of hemolymph biochemistry panels to evaluate nutritional, moult recovery, and female reproductive status.

Familiarity with field sampling techniques, lobster biology, and basic laboratory skills are assets but not required. An ability to work in collaboration with others is essential.

Students are expected to develop a thesis, take graduate courses and present their results at regional, national and international meetings and publish (results) in high quality journals.

Positions to begin as early as September 2009 and funding is for 2 years.

Interested students are expected to have a BSc or DVM degree. Students possessing a DVM degree are strongly encouraged to apply. All applicants must submit; (i) a letter profiling their research interests and outlining practical experience, course work in marine biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, aquaculture, aquatic biology and related subjects; (ii) university transcripts; and (iii) an updated curriculum vitae (cv). The cv should include the names and contact information for three (3) professional references.

Please submit questions and applications to:
Microarray Projects Hemolymph Biochemistry Projects
Dr. Spencer Greenwood
AVC Lobster Science Centre and
Department of Pathology and Microbiology
Atlantic Veterinary College
University of Prince Edward Island
550 University Avenue
Charlottetown, PEI
C1A 4P3
sgreenwood at upei dot ca

Dr. Andrea Battison
AVC Lobster Science Centre,
Atlantic Veterinary College
University of Prince Edward Island
550 University Avenue
Charlottetown, PEI
C1A 4P3
abattison at upei dot ca

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Waiting for the Spring

bubble bum springtail, originally uploaded by Lord V.

A wonderful image of Dicyrtomina ornata, a springtail showing the eyes, and if you look carefully under head, the furcula just touching the leaf between the first and second pair of legs.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mr. Arthrobalanus

Today, Charles Darwin is mostly remembered for the theory of evolution, natural selection and his four most famous books"The Voyage of the Beagle", "On the Origin of Species", "The Descent of Man" and "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals". Few realize he published some 21 major books (one he was a writer an editor of a multi-volume set which I have counted as one book) and numerous papers. Even without the theory of evolution and the four most popular works, Charles Darwin was an eminent scientist, well published in geology, general zoology and in the area that most concerns us... invertebrates.

Of the many books he published, one was about the structure of coral reefs, two were about the interactions of plants and insects; five were completely about invertebrates. Of those only one, "The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Actions of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits" was not about barnacles. He spent 8 years and published four monographs on the barnacles.

First the back story. Barnacles were, when Charles Darwin went off to university, understood to be molluscs. Linneaus and Cuvier both reasoned they were molluscs because of the morphology of their shells and the presence of a sea water filled "mantle" cavity. In 1830 John Thompson showed they were related to crustaceans when he published the results of watching the metamorphosis of a nauplius into a cyprid larvae and then into and adult barnacle.

By 1844 Charles had almost completed the description of the specimen collected on the Voyage of the Beagle, and he had completed the first draft of On the Origin of Species. 1844 was also the year that Vestiges came out, which caused Darwin to rethink publishing "On the Origin" in its current form, and which prompted his friend Hooker to remark in 1845: "no one has the right to examine the question of species who has not minutely described many."

Darwin returned to writing "Geological Observations on South America" and by 1846 had cleared his desk, except that "illformed little monster" he would later come to call Mr. Arthrobalanus, a microscopic barnacle. Darwin figured it would take a few months, at most a year to examine, describe and publish the results. Then he could return to the issue of revising and publishing "Origins". 8 Years later he finished with the barnacles, having written 4 monographs on them.

I had originally intended to have described only a single abnormal Cirripede, from the shores of South America, and was led, for the sake of comparison, to examine the internal parts of as many genera as I could procure.

Unfortunately Mr. Arthrobalanus turned out to be a vexing character – a microscopic, parasitic barnacle. Darwin requested barnacles from friends and colleagues around the word to try and understand how arthrobalaus fit in. He began looking at life histories and larval forms. With each new species loaned to him, he sank deeper into the world of Cirripedia. Loius Agassiz called out for someone to revise the group, since had not been evaluated since becoming part of the crustaceans, a move which required a complete re-evaluation of their anatomy. In Darwin he found a willing patsy author.

For years he studied barnacles from around the world. The modern barnacles he dissected, the fossils he disarticulated. Yep, he did the fossils too, since no complete re-examination of the barnacles would be complete without re-examining the multitude of fossilized species. Darwin both suffered and enjoyed the challenge of the work. He suffered from eye and mental fatigue dissecting each day, but he made discoveries that kept him excited:
I believe Arthrobalanus has no ovisac at all!, & that the appearance of one is entirely owing to the splitting, & tucking up to the posterior penis, of the inner membrane of sack.— I have just found a Cirripede with an indisputably abortive anterior penis; so that this chief anomalous feature (viz two penes) in Arthrobalanus is in some degree brought within bounds.—

In short order Darwin had trained himself to become a taxonomist. He relied on homology and embryology for both description and as a key to the evolutionary relationships between group members lines of descent. In the 8 years he worked on Barnacles he soon became the worlds leading authority on the subject and quickly met his friend Hooker's objection to Vestiges, since he had now described many indeed, in creating the first modern taxonomic description of the Cirripedia. This "detour" actually provided time to rethink "On the Origin" and provided him with invaluable experience describing species and their relations to create a more compelling argument of evolution.

Soon after publishing the first monograph on living cirripedia, Charles Darwin was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of London, for his work. Clearly Mr. Darwin was a friend of the invertebrates.

Oh, Darwin renamed Mr. Arthrobalanus to be Cryptophialus minutus a burrowing or boring barnacle, a rather curious and unusual group of barnacles that includes sexual dimorphism and reduced males.

The sources for all of this post are Darwin Online and the Darwin Correspondence Project, a pair of excellent resources for studying anything Darwin, especially with the PDF's of his Ciripedia Monographs (PDF files)!

Squid Sex at Slate

Tentacular "high fives" are in order for Miriam Goldstein of the Oyster's Garter! Besides being one of our favorite invert bloggers and shanty singers, she is now a Slate author.

On Friday Slate posted a brilliant article by Miriam in their XX Factor section detailing The six secrets of squid sex - advice to a young Loligo opalescens on how to successfully complete the mating imperative and pass on it's genes to the next generation without being caught by the ultimate hectocotylized fourth blockers, human fishermen. In wonderful prose she describes all the beauty of squid orgies, but just to make sure there is no confusion (and to satisfy our voyeuristic desires) she includes an awesome video segment, from one of my favorite underwater filmakers and videographers – Howard Hall Productions, of male consort mating and a sneak attack attempt by a smaller male - simply beautiful!!

And just to keep the science cred's super high, she has a companion post up at the Garter with all the research citations, lab links and name drops of squidly delight!

Purely for your voyeuristic entertainment, here is another nice video from some scuba divers of the massive squid orgy off La Jolla from last year. Thousands of squid in flagrante delicto.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Coral Larvae Ph.D.

If this is your idea of an extremely cute baby picture? Then this position announcement is probably for you!

Interested in coral larvae and their recruitment including ecology,coral-algal interactions and population dynamics? Want to do a Ph.D. in the subject?

The Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology in Bremen, Germany may have just the opening for you. They have posted an opening for a Ph.D. student to study and quantify the effects of benthic algae on coral recovery and related issues. The work will involve a lot of lab and field experiments, including rough field locations in the tropics and horribly boring tropical reef diving with 10-30 meter visibility. (What is the point of that?!)

Note this is my interpretation of tropical reef diving from Roatan, Honduras. This may not match the Leibniz Center interpretation. Caveat emptor and all that.

They're looking for a recent recipient of a Masters or Diploma degree in marine sciences, preferably with experience in coral reef ecology or marine botany, that has tropical fieldwork and scientific diving experience. English communication is a must, as is the ability to work independently in an interdisciplinary research environment.

Applications are being accepted through March 31st. You know the routine: cover letter with research interests & experience, complete CV, and the names, email addresses, and phone numbers of two referees. Submit it all as a single pdf file to maggy (dot) nugues (at) zmt-bremen (dot) de.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Cumacean Workshop

Recognize this crustacean?

If you're on the west coast you'll soon have the opportunity to learn how to recognize this deep sea cumacean (Campylapsis sp.) and many other members of this important order of crustaceans found worldwide from the shallows to the abyss. The Southern California Association of Marine Taxonomists is holding a workshop on cumacean morphology and taxonomy with Les Watling, at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum on March 9th and 10th 2009. It's open to anyone interested in getting hands on, practical experience in cumacean identification.

Hmmm... I don't think we've reported on cumaceans here yet. Let's see what we can dig up.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Carnival of Evolution #8 (Part 2)

Click on button to enter your Biochemical Soul and access some of the finest evolution blogging in the last month or two.

Click on the icon to enter the Biochemical Soul for the 2nd part of Carnival of Evolution #8. There were so many submissions this month that Daniel had to break it up into 2 parts! If you haven't read part 1, click here.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Circus of the Spineless #35: Regeneration, Renewal, Reinvigoration

Like the planarian of the 8th grade science science fair projects I used to judge, or the arm of a sea star in our deep blue realm. - Yes We Can

Like a tardigrade outside the International Space Station, frozen under the permafrost of Antarctica or dessicated on a moss-covered pine. - Yes We Can

Like a crayfish molting in order to grow, a hermit crab searching for a new shell, a polychaete building tube of mud and stone - Yes We Can

Like the metamorphosis of a lepidopteran, a beetle and dragonfly; a physical change brings about a change in habitat, a change in lifestyle. The Circus of the Spineless is a celebration of all creatures missing the backbone, started in 2005 by Tony and Nuthatch. Last fall the management was unable to keep up with life and managing the blog carnival. I decided to take it over last week in order to keep the spirit alive and keep together the cohesion of a tight-knit, excellent community of nature bloggers. There is nothing out there that is like the Circus of the Spineless. Being a purveyor of that particular "95%" of animal life it was only appropriate!

Please contact me by leaving comments at the Circus of the Spineless or emailing me at kzelnio at gmail dot com. Now, on with the show!

Over at Deep Sea News, I wrote about new research on the origin of dwarf males in populations of the bone-devouring zombie worm from outer space. Otherwise known as the lovable and cuddly Osedax. They are so spiffy, students at Duke Marine Lab made a nice little ditty about these worms, posted at Southern-Fried Science!

Daniel over Biochemical Soul found a wee little spider tending her eggs in his house. It certainly isn't one that you want to get too close to!

Inspired by a recent seminar from Roger Hanlon at UCONN, Eric describes in fantastic detail the current state of camoflage research in cephalopods.

Peter from Deep Sea News recently described a new species of deep sea coral. Head over there to read about his take on describing this beautiful new species and watch the video of the actual discovery! He follows it up with another post telling all about how he came to choose on the name for his new species, and what exactly goes into naming a new species.

Bora from A Blog Around the Clock posted about two intriguing studies on the circadian rhythms of aggression in crayfish. The first is a study he published with his colleagues in a blog post a few years ago and the second is research published recently by a German group. After great head-to-head summaries of each research an interesting discussion about citing blog posts in journal articles ensues.

Christopher, curator of the excellent Catalogue of Organisms, has a superb article on insect larval evolution. Go there and learn the difference between holometabolous and hemimetabolous development. There will be an exam later!

I N S E C T A - C O L E O P T E R A
Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has an amazing summary of new research on an amazing new "dung" beetle. Its not what you think it is. This is one of the must-read stories from the last month!

I N S E C T A - D I P T E R A
Mo from Neurophilosophy shows there can be beauty in what some might call obnoxious pests. Male and female mosquitoes sing and harmonize a lovely duet. Find out more about this melodious new research!

I N S E C T A - H Y M E N O P T E R A
GrrlScientist from Living the Scientific Life has an awesome video of scientist excavating the "kingdom of the ants". Go there to see how a colony thrives in the wild!

I N S E C T A - N E U R O P T E R A
Duncan from the Ben Cruachan blog has an amazing insect I've never seen before! Hint: Is it a lacewing or is it a mantis?? Que raro!

I N S E C T A - O D O N A T A
Tyto Tony posts some beautiful pictures of dragonflies from Australia. Keep out for vicious red one!

I N S E C T A - O R T H O P T E R A
Another home-run article by Ed Yong on new research showing that serotonin is the trigger for swarming behavior in desert locusts. It is an amazing story and not quite as simple as one might think.

I N S E C T A - P H A S M A T O D E A
Christopher, curator of the Catalogue of Organisms, discusses how parsimony can sometimes be misleading, especially in the case of stick insect wing morphology. See also Alex's (from the fabulous Myrmecos) post on character reversal in ants, which Christopher cites.

I N V E R T E B R A T A - O E C O L O G I A
Wandering Weeta visited the seashore and documented a fine piece of natural history of the local shore ecology in the dead of Winter. Head over to discuss what the heck all these washed up tubes might be!

Weeta also has a battle royale between a carpet beetle and spider in the aptly titled "catching the food is only half the battle"!

* Editor's Note: I had originally planned to go out and search for posts myself but thanks to the efforts of several bloggers, twitterers and nature blogging enthusiasts all the posts today were actually submitted within 24 hours of my going public with the announcement! That is quite astonishing to me! Thanks alot Nature Blogging community for keeping this up and making it happen!

GrrlScientist and myself gave a presentation on Nature Blogging at the recent Science Online '09 conference. We would love it if people headed over to our blogs (links in last sentence) and contributed to a discussion on nature blogging.

Go to Deep Sea News to find out where to buy an awesome marine invertebrate clock and SCAMIT's 2009 calender, proceeds of which benefit local taxonomists in southern California.

Though not submitted, I highly recommend reading:
A HUGE thank you to Daniel from Biochemical Soul who altruistically produced this wonderful carnival badge for the Circus of the Spineless! I uploaded a larger version on the Circus homepage for future hosts and announcers. Great job Daniel!

Next edition of the Circus of the Spineless will be hosted at the Invertebrate Diaries. Please send your submissions
edwbaker at googlemail dot com.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cephalopod-tastic Friday

ResearchBlogging.orgRoger Hanlon, from the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, came out to UCONN's Avery Point campus to present for our Friday seminar series. His presentation was a good overview of his lab's work on cephalopod camouflage behavior over the past decades, with the majority of the discussion on the work they have done recently with the cuttlefish Sepia officinalis. So I hope you will bear with me while I gush on a bit about my favorite group of animals and their amazing adaptations, which allow them to confound predator, prey, and researchers alike!

One of the first videos (of many) presented was one which leaked to YouTube in low res, but, of course, Roger had it in full resolution and projected large. The video is a magnificent example of high-fidelity camouflage by the octopus employing all its tricks. I've seen an octopus disappear in front of my eyes only once and it was simply amazing. I've seen Roger's video three or four times in high resolution, and each time I get the same wonder-filled reaction. I've probably seen it a hundred times in YouTube's low resolution and even there it makes me pause. For some reason the majority of people who view this think the tricks in the video are in post production not from the octopus...go figure.

Where's the octopus?
Image copyright Roger Hanlon

After the "Wow" example, Roger gave an overview of camouflage related capabilities and systems in cephalopods. He outlined their amazing skin with its dense network of chromatophores and their controlling muscles, underlying irridiphores and leucophores and their muscles, the base skin layer, and the vision and neural control system which allow the cephalopods to coordinate and change all of these structures along with changes in the texture of the skin as fast as they do.

He broadly covered the use of color and patterns in cephalopods for communication, especially in sexual competition and courtship. Regretfully, he ran out of time at the end and didn't cover the wonderful tale of "cross-dressing" cuttlefish males and their success in tricking dominant males to think they are females. His lab also found that females showed a preferential choice of the "cross-dressing" male's sperm for fertilization of the eggs (Hanlon et al. 2005). But, he did show Caribbean reef squid males showing their "two-faced nature", always presenting the female they are wooing with a peaceful calm side, while showing all other squid an extremely aggressive countenance.

Two frames about 10 seconds apart from video by Roger Hanlon. In the first image the male is on the left of the female, showing her a calm, courting display. The stark white display facing away from the female is an aggressive display, warning other males to keep away. In the second frame the male has switched to the right side of the female when she moved and changed his color patterns to keep the docile pattern visible to the female and the aggressive warning showing outward to any other males. Total color change occurred in ~2 seconds.
Images from video, copyright Roger Hanlon

Once Hanlon laid the background information, which was especially important since his audience included physicists, chemists, biologists, and students ranging from age 8 to 70+, Roger moved on to the main focus of his lab's recent work: camouflage. While the octopus in the image at the top is a high-fidelity example of cephalopod camouflage, a near exact match to the background in color, pattern, and texture, in years of observing cephalopods with many thousands of video and photographic records as data points, Hanlon's lab has found that this high-fidelity form of camouflage is very rare. "Good enough" camouflage patterns are far more common. Most of the camouflage in cephalopods can be categorized into 3 broad templates (with variations) of patterning: a fine-grained, average intensity uniform pattern, a medium-grained varied contrast mottled pattern, and large-grained high contrast disruptive pattern. Using their visual records and captive cuttlefish, they have examined these templates extensively.

Each template is used in different circumstances and, with minor variation in pattern and the addition of color matching, is very effective in fooling the eye without having to exactly match the background. In a large variety of controlled tests his team has gradually narrowed in on the base templates and the cues that cuttlefish use to determine which pattern to utilize. The lab uses tanks with natural or laminated backgrounds placed at the bottom of the tank. They capture the reaction of the cuttlefish when the environment is changed using both HD video and still photography. To better quantify the results, they have been using black and white checkerboard and pixilated background patterns with varying sized squares.

The cuttlefish have an area on the top of their mantle that is referred to as the "White Square component" which is characteristically displayed in disruptive camouflage and is proportional to the size of the animal. It is also, even though not visible to the cuttlefish, key in the choice of disruptive camouflage by the cuttlefish.

Disruptive skin components of cuttlefish Sepia officinalis, including the "white Square Component" indicated by the number 2 at the joint of the "T" formation in the left figure. On the right is the result of comparing various sized cuttlefish with various sized grid patterns. At all sizes when the area of one square of the grid is between 40 and 120% of the area of the cuttlefishes white square component, it will utilize the disruptive camouflage. Below and above those relative sizes and the animal moves to mottled or uniform patterning.
From Barbosa et al. (2007).

In their recent research, the lab found that when presented any cue for disruptive patterning, even if it represents only a small percentage of the total environmental cues, e.g. two or three white rocks on sandy bottom, a cuttlefish will choose to move to the cue item and employ a disruptive pattern of camouflage. Interestingly, white pebbles cued the disruptive pattern, but black pebbles did not. They have also determined that the shape of the cue is not critical, but the area is.

In a recent paper, Barbosa, Litman, and Hanlon, set up both vertical and horizontal patterns to test the cuttlefish response against. Since cuttlefish are generally benthic, ideally they must remain camouflaged against predators from above (such as those pesky dolphins) and from the sides simultaneously. In these tests the cuttlefish appeared to weigh the patterns on the side of the tank over the bottom of the tank for choosing their pattern, but they also modified that choice by the bottom pattern. In their quantitative analysis it was found that there was a statistically significant difference between when the side or the bottom only were checkered and between when the bottom was checkered and both the bottom and side were checkered. These differences were displayed in three of eleven discrete skin regions of the cuttlefish.

What happens when the vertical and horizontal patterns are radically different? Qualitatively, the cuttlefish appear to weigh the vertical visual cues over the bottom cues slightly. Quantitatively this is born out in only three areas of the cuttlefish's body.
Figures from Barbosa et al. (2008)

The team at the MBL, having made progress on the cues for disruptive patterning camouflage, is also looking into the effects of substrate contrast and size for uniform, mottled, or disruptive body patterns. For this work they have turned to image processing to grade and analyze the cuttlefish responses to varying check sizes, as before, but also with varying contrast between the check patterns. As with the previous experiments with black and white and other high contrast checks, the cuttlefish camouflage pattern depended on the size of the checks. Disruptive patterns were employed when the check was between 40% and 120% of the area of the animals white square component. When the pattern was altered to a lower contrast (e.g. shades of grey) however, the camouflage pattern was independent of the check size, and was of the uniform/stippled pattern. At intermediary contrast levels the mottled pattern is seen with small area checks.

Evaluating background pattern contrast as well as check size as cue for uniform, mottled or disruptive camouflage pattern employment by S. officinalis
From Barbosa et al. (2008)(b)

Even with all the headway the lab is making on camouflage patterns in cephalopods, there is still much for them to look at. Especially vexing right now is the issue of color. Cephalopods have excellent color matching capabilities, at least during the daytime, at night they still employ excellent pattern camouflage but the color is off, in hue if not in intensity (Hanlon et al. 2007). What researchers wonder about however is how they are able to "see" the colors that they are using in their camouflage. Cephalopod eyes are beautiful structures, able to see polarized light, but they only have one receptor for color information. Cephalopods are colorblind (Mäthger et al. 2006) and see only in a blue-green at 492nm. So how do they "see" the colors they are imitating, since they are able to imitate the colors around them?

Lydia Mäthger and others from the lab are examining just that. They have recently had a paper published from experiments in which they measured the spectral reflectance of S. officinalis and of several marine substrates which would evoke the three different main camouflage patterns. They found that the spectral signatures, while not a match, do correlate closely, suggesting that the color variations in substrate and animal skin can be very similar and this may let the cuttlefish effectively match color without color vision.

So, yeah, that was a very cool seminar. All the better for the brief conversation afterward at the post-seminar social. It was exciting for Johann as well, since he was able to ask several questions and get answers straight from the guy who wrote the book. Since we lingered so long, my family decided to get Thai for dinner from a new restaurant near the school. First two items up on the specials for the night?

#1 Fried cuttlefish with Chili sauce. (sorry DC!)
#2 Jumping Squid with Thai Basil and Chili

Oh, yeah... Cephalopodtastic!

UPDATE:Want to get a taste of the video Roger treated us to? Want to see the invisible octopus, two faced squid, disappearing cuttlefish and moving rock?

David Gallo presented some of Roger's work at a TED talk a few years ago and has 3 minutes of the cephalopod porn video with all the requisite "Ooohs" and "Aaaaahs" from the crowd at Monterey Bay. I'll embed the low res version for your immediate gratification, but a high res version is also available for big screen drooling viewing pleasures. The cephalopods come after 2 minutes of almost as (if not as,) cool, deep sea bioluminescence.

A Barbosa, L Litman, R Hanlon (2008). Changeable cuttlefish camouflage is influenced by horizontal and vertical aspects of the visual background Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 194 (4), 405-413 DOI: 10.1007/s00359-007-0311-1

A Barbosa, L Mäthger, K Buresch, J Kelly, C Chubb, C Chiao, R Hanlon (2008). Cuttlefish camouflage: The effects of substrate contrast and size in evoking uniform, mottle or disruptive body patterns Vision Research, 48 (10), 1242-1253 DOI: 10.1016/j.visres.2008.02.011

A Barbosa, L Mäthger, C Chubb, C Florio, C Chiao, R Hanlon (2007). Disruptive coloration in cuttlefish: a visual perception mechanism that regulates ontogenetic adjustment of skin patterning Journal of Experimental Biology, 210 (7), 1139-1147 DOI: 10.1242/jeb.02741

R Hanlon, M Naud, J Forsythe, K Hall, A Watson, J McKechnie (2007). Adaptable Night Camouflage by Cuttlefish. The American Naturalist, 169 (4), 543-551 DOI: 10.1086/512106

R Hanlon, M Naud, P Shaw, J Havenhand (2005). Behavioural ecology: Transient sexual mimicry leads to fertilization Nature, 433 (7023), 212-212 DOI: 10.1038/433212a (Open Access)

L Mäthger, C Chiao, A Barbosa, R Hanlon (2008). Color matching on natural substrates in cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 194 (6), 577-585 DOI: 10.1007/s00359-008-0332-4

L Mäthger, A Barbosa, S Miner, R Hanlon (2006). Color blindness and contrast perception in cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) determined by a visual sensorimotor assay Vision Research, 46 (11), 1746-1753 DOI: 10.1016/j.visres.2005.09.035

R Sutherland, L Mäthger, R Hanlon, A Urbas, M Stone (2008). Cephalopod coloration model. II. Multiple layer skin effects Journal of the Optical Society of America A, 25 (8) DOI: 10.1364/JOSAA.25.002044 (Open Access)