Taking advantage of their ability to change colour, male mourning cuttlefish display courtship markings to a female with one side of their bodies, while displaying female markings to a male on the other side to avoid being perceived as a rival.

Credit: C. BROWN

Culum Brown and his colleagues at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, studied photographs of 138 male mourning cuttlefish (Sepia plangon) in the company of females in Sydney Harbour and observed animals grouped in an aquarium. The researchers found that when a male (pictured right) was courting a single female (left) in the company of another male, the courting male would display the half-and-half deception in 39% of cases.

Complete female mimicry has been observed in other species, as has the use of a different pattern on each side of the body to deceive predators. However, this is the first time that an animal has been seen to use laterally split markings for gender deception.

Biol. Lett. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2012.0435 (2012)