New Brain Map Reveals Secrets of Camouflage

Summary: A new brain mapping study reveals a neural network in cuttlefish that involves chemosensory function and body pattern control which the cuttlefish utilize for foraging and camouflage.

Source: University of Queensland

New mapping of the cuttlefish brain could explain how, and why, the marine animal employs its distinct camouflage ability according to researchers from The University of Queensland (UQ).

Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) neuroscientists opened the new avenue of discovery after creating, for the first time, a detailed outline of the cuttlefish brain structure and neuronal network.

“Much of our understanding of the cuttlefish brain has been based on a single species, the nocturnal European common cuttlefish,” Lead author Dr Wen-Sung Chung from QBI’s Marshall Lab said.

This shows a cuttlefish
New mapping of the cuttlefish brain could explain how, and why, the marine animal employs its distinct camouflage ability. Credit: Dr Wen-Sung Chung / Queensland Brain Institute

“We wanted to fill in the gaps of this knowledge by focusing on selected cuttlefish which are active during the day and further compare with other species from the Mediterranean and Indo-Pacific regions.”

Using gross anatomy and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), the research team were able to track the changes in the visual and learning brain regions.

They then compared the results against other cuttlefish species to construct a connectivity of the brain.

Credit: University of Queensland

“What we discovered was the neuronal network which involved chemosensory function and body patterning control, which enables the cuttlefish to use in foraging and its camouflage,” Dr Chung said.

“We also discovered that the brain adaptations reflect the requirement of their daily life regarding ecology and habitats.”

The map of the brain structure could also help researchers understand the evolutionary pathway of the cuttlefish brain and, in turn, possibly gain insights to the evolution of our own brain.

“This research adds to our growing understanding of the cuttlefish brain along with our recent discoveries in the brains of octopus and squid,” Dr Chung said.

“It suggests that the brain structures can be used to investigate the evolutionary history of cephalopods.

“And by understanding the brain structures and networks of other animals, we can start to perceive more of the forces that shaped our brain.”

About this neuroscience research news

Author: Merrett Pye
Source: University of Queensland
Contact: Merrett Pye – University of Queensland
Image: The image is credited to Dr Wen-Sung Chung / Queensland Brain Institute

Original Research: Open access.
The brain structure and the neural network features of the diurnal cuttlefish Sepia plangon” by Wen-Sung Chung et al. iScience


The brain structure and the neural network features of the diurnal cuttlefish Sepia plangon


  • The diurnal cuttlefish has the enlarged and complex visual and learning brain lobes
  • Identification of neural networks associated with camouflage and chemosenses
  • Evolutionary history and ecology requirement lead to cuttlefish brain heterogeneity


Cuttlefish are known for their rapid changes of appearance enabling camouflage and con-specific communication for mating or agonistic display. However, interpretation of their sophisticated behaviors and responsible brain areas is based on the better-studied squid brain atlas.

Here we present the first detailed description of the neuroanatomical features of a tropical and diurnal cuttlefish, Sepia plangon, coupled with observations on ontogenetic changes in its visual and learning centers using a suite of MRI-based techniques and histology.

We then make comparisons to a loliginid squid, treating it as a ‘baseline’, and also to other cuttlefish species to help construct a connectivity map of the cuttlefish brain. Differences in brain anatomy and the previously unknown neural connections associated with camouflage, motor control and chemosensory function are described.

These findings link brain heterogeneity to ecological niches and lifestyle, feeding hypotheses and evolutionary history, and provide a timely, new technology update to older literature.

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