Local copy here

I’m mentioned a few times, but the good chunk is at about 29:40, which is where the youtube video below should start. There is a bunch of ceph stuff earlier.

From Science Friday

Full-time biologist—part-time cephalopod matchmaker, Richard Ross invites us into his secret home lab where he studies the mating rituals of the lesser Pacific striped Octopus.

Local copy:

I’m a .gif!

From Advanced Aquarist

By Richard RossPosted Mar 24, 2014 09:30 AM
This video of a juvenile dwarf cuttlefish eating a captive raised designer clownfish is not just fantastic to watch, but it may point us in a new direction for feeding marine predators.

This week, Chad Vossen of Vossen Aquatics and builder of the famed Vossen Larval Snagger, started feeding tiny clownfish, including Platinum clowns to his very young Dwarf Cuttlefish, Sepia bandensis. Cuttlefish hunting and feeding is always amazing to watch, but watching a cuttlefish hunt and eat a captive bred designer clownfish brings the experience to a whole ‘nother level that will thrill some while making others uncomfortable. After all that is a captive bred fish, and every captive bred fish is special, and expensive captive bred fish are even more special right
More »

LPSO covered in the print version of National Geographic, April 2016 edition.

Online version here: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/04/basic-instincts-octopus-mating/ More »


From Alameda Magazine, November 2015

Rich Ross Has a Thing for Octopuses

A Cal Academy senior scientist studies the larger Pacific striped octopuses, sometimes in his at-home Alameda Lab.

Rich Ross was inspired by the octopuses of his youth that he saw in horror films.

Rich Ross was inspired by the octopuses of his youth that he saw in horror films.


It’s pretty obvious that Rich Ross is obsessed with octopuses. Tattoos of three separate octopuses are inked onto his upper arm, and their tentacles reach out from beneath his short-sleeved shirt and coil delicately around his right elbow, as Ross explained that octopuses are the closest things to alien life on the planet.

“They have different blood from us, three hearts, and a ring-shaped brain,” said Ross, who studies octopuses as a senior scientist at the California Academy of Sciences. “They can change color and texture like nobody’s business. They re-grow limbs, and their eyesight is fantastic. There is something so captivating about an animal that can change shape and has so many arms.”

Ross fell in love with octopuses as a kid. “I was fascinated by their cultural significance and the legends about them,” he said.

But few people know that Ross has been breeding the rare larger Pacific striped octopus in the spare bedroom of his ocean-blue house on Alameda’s East Side. “It’s my secret home lab,” joked Ross, as a pair of Dr. Seuss fish, an arrow crab, a goldflake angelfish, a cleaner shrimp, a designer Clown fish, and some Bangkok cardinals weaved through a massive aquarium system that filled the room with an eerie blue glow. Nothing but the stalked eyes of a zebra mantis shrimp was visible in one tank, until Ross dangled a tiny fish into the aquarium. Suddenly the shrimp exploded from the sand, grabbed the fish in its claws, and dived back into its hidey-hole.

But sadly there are no larger Pacific striped octopuses lurking in Ross’ lab at the moment. “The beautiful tragedy of these animals is they are so short-lived,” Ross said. He hopes to get an expedition funded to learn more about these baseball-sized octopuses, which up until recently, were viewed as the stuff of myth, the eight-armed equivalents of the legendary Bigfoot. Their behavior flies in the face of most cephalopods.

The intrigue began in the 1970s, when a Panamanian biologist named Arcadio Rodaniche diving off the coast of Nicaragua discovered some striped octopuses behaving unusually. Unlike most female octopuses, which devour their mates after breeding, the female larger Pacific striped octopuses weren’t cannibalistic. Instead, Rodaniche observed them mating beak-to-beak, cohabitating in pairs, sharing dens, living in colonies, and laying eggs repeatedly and in small batches. But when Rodaniche reported their behavior in 1992, scientists met his paper with disbelief.

Two decades later, Ross and UC Berkeley biologist Roy Caldwell were studying a much smaller octopus, confusingly known as the lesser Pacific striped octopus, when they got word that a collector had caught something “different.” “Almost immediately, we knew it was the larger Pacific striped octopus,” Ross said. “It was like catching Bigfoot and finding, yes, it does lope across the room.”

Ross and Caldwell rushed to secure the collector’s entire larger Pacific striped octopus catch, housing some in Ross’ home lab, and some at UC Berkeley, and the pair spent the next year and half verifying Rodaniche’s reports. “We didn’t want to run into academic intrigue,” Ross explained. “If they are spread out, it becomes harder to study them and more competitive.”

At first, the researchers didn’t know if they could keep the males and females safely together. “But once we knew we could, we made arrangements to display them,” Ross recalled. This involved sealing octopuses in bags and driving them to the Academy of Sciences in water-filled buckets. “The flashier the octopus, the more cautious I am about handling it,” Ross said. Most octopuses have poisonous bites, and the coloration in the larger Pacific striped octopus is too “exciting” for Ross not to be worried.

The octopuses lived for about two years and laid eggs, but their offspring did not survive. “The biggest roadblocks with a marine mammal like the larger Pacific striped octopus, which has a larval stage, is figuring out what it eats and keeping up with its food chain,” Ross said.

Ross, Caldwell, and fellow octopus researcher Christine Huffard, also managed to track down Rodaniche, and the quartet co-authored a paper about large Pacific striped octupus behavior and body patterns, which was published in the August 2015 issue of PLoS One, a peer-reviewed, open-access resource from the Public Library of Science.

“Luckily, Rodaniche was still alive,” Ross said. “We were worried that he was going to go before the paper was published.

Mostly self-taught from raising cuttlefish and coral at home, Ross said he is overjoyed to be working at the Academy of Sciences and going on expeditions each year. “I’m freaking Jacques Cousteau,” he laughed.

But he said he worries that larger Pacific striped octopuses, which prefer colder temperatures, could be harder for collectors to source, as El Niño warms up the Pacific. Meanwhile, he mulled over a list of as yet unanswered questions. “We know the females aren’t cannibalistic, but do they have multiple mates? We never had enough males to find out,” said Ross, who hopes to breed these creatures to adulthood. “When we figure out how to do that, it’ll be a good day.”


From Science Friday
For a local copy of the interview click here

me ira tattoo

Ira Flatow and Richard Ross

Science Friday screen shot



LPSO BEHAVIOR PAPERjournal.pone.0134152

Biologist Rich Ross visits with cephalopod news & porn, & ways the government can arrest anyone.

Steam the episode here:


Or listen here:

From BBC

Mimic Octopus Thaumoctopus mimicus Lembeh Strait Celebes Sea Sulawesi Indonesia. Image shot 2008. Exact date unknown.
Presented by
Katherine Harmon Courage

Male octopuses have a big problem: female octopuses. Each male wants to mate and pass on his genes to a new generation. The trouble is, the female is often larger and hungrier than he is, so there is a constant risk that, instead of mating, the female will strangle him and eat him.

The males have a host of tricks to survive the mating process. Some of them can quite literally mate at arm’s length. Others sneak into a female’s den disguised as another gal, or sacrifice their entire mating arm to the female and then make a hasty retreat.

It’s all very macabre. It’s also a paradox. Octopuses are some of the most antisocial, unfriendly animals alive. Yet their bodies have evolved in such a way that they must mate in the most intimate way possible: the male has to insert his sperm directly into the female’s body using one of his arms. The resulting mating practices are not just a curiosity: they are a window onto how octopuses have evolved into the creatures they are today.


Wunderpus octopuses (Wunderpus photogenicus) mating (Credit: Roy Caldwell)

Octopuses and their close cousins the squid all belong to a group of animals called cephalopods. Both are actually molluscs, making them close relatives of oysters and limpets, but they have lost their shells.

Octopuses tend to be profoundly antagonistic towards each other. Unlike gregarious animals like dolphins, they appear to see their own kind primarily as competition, and sometimes food.

There’s always the threat of cannibalism

Squid, which are downright social by comparison, mate in a distinctly unromantic way. A male squid swims by and deposits sperm in one quick move outside of the female’s body. She can decide later whether to accept it.

But not so the octopus. “Octopus mating is definitely different than other cephalopods,” says marine biologist Jean Boal of Millersville University in Pennsylvania. The male must deposit his sperm inside the female’s body, at the risk of his life.

“There’s always the threat of cannibalism,” saysRichard Ross of the California Academy of Science’s Steinhart Aquarium. More »

A photo of larger Pacific striped octopus.

Most octopuses are loners, but larger Pacific striped octopuses, like the one shown here, display surprising social behaviors.


Katherine Harmon Courage

for National Geographic


If recent octopus discoveries have taught us anything, it’s that these eight-armed ocean dwellers are smart. They can use tools, change color in an instant, and commission their arms to solve problems. But they generally do all this as loners.

 Now, new research into a surprisingly social octopus is shattering even the most expansive ideas of known octopus behavior. (Related: “Journey of Octopus Discovery Reveals Them to Be Playful, Curious, Smart.”)

Panamanian biologist Aradio Rodaniche first reported the Pacific striped octopus in 1991 off the coast of Nicaragua, noting its strange behavior—living in groups of possibly up to 40, laying multiple egg clutches, and mating face-to-face and sucker-to-sucker. Most other octopus species, for instance, come together only to mate.

But scientists didn’t see another one of these curious octopuses for another 20 years, when Richard Ross, a biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, came across one in 2012. Through a commercial collector, he acquired several wild specimens to study in the lab.

Ross is one of the few scientists who are studying and observing some of this octopus’s truly bizarre—and sometimes anxiety-provoking—behavior, which he and his team will describe in an upcoming publication.

More »

From Reef Threads


It’s our 175th podcast, also known as the Queen’s Plasma Centennial Jubilee podcast. This week we bring you a small bucketload of semi-interesting to absolutely fascinating discussion items about the reef-aquarium hobby, including NERAC events, Long Island Aquarium, collecting shore shrimp, Todd Gardner, Richard Ross and designer/feeder clownfish, instant-cycle goop from the Tanked people, and bottled bacteria. Download the podcast here, orsubscribe to our podcasts at iTunes. Also, follow us on Twitter at reefthreads.—Christine and Gary

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From Reefs.com, by Tal Sweet

Part of the MBI’s goal is to promote captive breeding of new species that haven’t been done before and to recognize the efforts of those that succeed. To be granted a species first award, the breeder must be able to provide proof of the date of the success via a verifiable third party publication including, books, scientific journals, online forums, or the MBI system. Extremely detailed Journals within the MBI are required for this award. When granted a Species First Award, a star medal will be applied over regular success icon to indicate that it is a Species First. The MBI Council is proud to register and confirm the following Species First awards:

Sepia bandensis: Richard Ross, 2007

Sepia bandensis 1st MBI Species Firsts

TFH 5 of 6 300x199 MBI Species Firsts



More »

Originally from Advanced Aquarist

This week, Chad Vossen of Vossen Aquatics and builder of the famed Vossen Larval Snagger, started feeding tiny clownfish, including Platinum clowns to his very young Dwarf Cuttlefish, Sepia bandensis. Cuttlefish hunting and feeding is always amazing to watch, but watching a cuttlefish hunt and eat a captive bred designer clownfish brings the experience to a whole ‘nother level that will thrill some while making others uncomfortable. After all that is a captive bred fish, and every captive bred fish is special, and expensive captive bred fish are even more special right?

One of the biggest hurdles in breeding cuttlefish and other cephalopods is the need for different sizes of live foods as the cuttles grow. Hatchling cuttles need tiny prey, juvenile cuttles need bigger prey, and adults need still bigger prey. More »

From Pet Word Radio – Addictive Reefkeeping

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 1.18.36 PM

A discussion of keeping and breeding cephalopods, working at public aquariums, and a sustainable hobby/industry. Click here to listen to the broadcast

or click here for the broadcast archived on richross.org:


From Reefs.com

A 1 cm captive bred Flamboyant cuttlefish prepares to strike at prey

The Marine Breeding Initiative’s 2012 workshop is next weekend, so the timing to share a pic of a captive breeding success story.

Metasepia spp have long been thought of as one of the ultimate aquarium display animals. Their colors and patterns that continually change and move across their skin make their common name obvious – the Flamboyant Cuttle. The problem? The only live about a year, and they have traditionally shipped poorly which means if you are lucky enough to get one that survived shipping, its probably near the end of its natural lifespan anyway. Captive breeding would be a no brainer, except getting broomstick has been near impossible because on the rear occasions these animals do get imported, the get imported in single digits. More »

From Reefs Magazine

by Allison Petty

Photos by Christopher Paparo, Video by Richard Ross

The Holy Grail

As a professional aquarist, my career has presented me with the opportunity to work with a variety of remarkable marine life. Working with animals from sharks to mammals, and electric eels to reptiles has been very rewarding, but none compare to the experience of working with cephalopods. At Atlantis Marine World, I care for our two cephalopod exhibits, the giant pacific octopus and cuttlefish. They are two of the most popular exhibits at the aquarium. Their unique, almost alien-like appearance, combined with their ability to change color and shape in an instant, keeps visitors mesmerized in front of the exhibits all day. Sadly, the specimens kept in these two exhibits are not with us for long. All cephalopods have a very short life span, some lasting less than a year. They hatch, grow quickly, and die shortly after reproduction. Fortunately though, this short life means they reach sexual maturity in a reasonable amount of time, making captive breeding of many cephalopod species possible. Typically, we keep Sepia officinalis or Sepia pharaonis, and I have been fortunate enough to raise both species. Recently, however, a twist of fate has afforded me the opportunity of a lifetime.

This journey started almost a year ago when a marine life wholesaler in California called to tell us that he had some Metasepia pfefferi (flamboyant cuttlefish) coming in and asked if we were interested. Since it is considered the holy grail of cephalopods and probably the coolest animal on the planet, what could we say?

The M. pfefferi was being sent next day via FedEx, which meant there was little time to prepare. Swinging into high gear we quickly set up a home for it, which ended up being a 24-gallon Via-Aqua tank with a shallow bed of live sand. The cuttlefish arrived the very next day. We acclimated it to its new home, and I immediately fell in love. Since I have never taken care of a flamboyant cuttlefish before, I contacted Richard Ross, the “cephalopod guru”, to ask for any useful information. He told me that it is common for flamboyant cuttlefish to mate before being collected. He explained that they prefer to lay their eggs under ledges and he recommended adding coconut shell halves in the tank, just in case by some miracle we received a gravid female. It seemed like a long shot that this cuttlefish could have reached sexual maturity and mated already, as it was only 2.5 inches in length.

After giving the cuttlefish some time to settle in, we offered it a live shore shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio), which it immediately stalked and devoured. The flamboyant is like no other cuttlefish I’ve encountered before. Most cuttlefish are masters of camouflage, having the ability to blend in quite well with their surroundings by changing the texture as well as the color of their skin quickly. Flamboyant cuttlefish share this ability to blend, but can also take their appearance to the other extreme with their stunning coloration. When they feel threatened they show a remarkable rippling display of colors down their body from bright yellows and whites, to bold purples and reds, making them stand out vibrantly. This show of colors is also a way to broadcast to potential predators that it is poisonous. It is said to be as lethal as a blue-ringed octopus, making the flamboyant cuttlefish the most toxic of the cuttlefish species. Another odd behavior of the flamboyant is that unlike other cuttlefish that are usually shy and spook easily, flamboyant cuttlefish are courageous. They will stand their ground instead of jetting off into the background of their tank. These behaviors make them very intriguing and guaranteed to hypnotize anyone. Needless to say, none of us got much work done for the rest of the day.

As the flamboyant was settling in and getting comfortable in its home, I added it into my routine of daily feedings and water changes. Being that Atlantis Marine World is located on a tidal river, it is very convenient to get endless amounts of shore shrimp and killifish. These shrimp and killifish are enriched with Cyclops and salt-water mysis before they are fed out. Using live food helped maintain good water quality since any uneaten food would be alive and not foul the water. However, being that it was a new system and cycling, I did a 15% water change, 3 times a week in order to keep the ammonia, nitrates and nitrites as close to zero as possible. I kept the salinity around 33 ppt, the pH between 7.8 and 8.0 and the temperature close to 73 degrees Fahrenheit. This combination seems to keep the flamboyant happy and healthy.

After about 3 weeks of giving this flamboyant a lot of special attention the unthinkable happened: she laid eggs! The morning of July 4th was a memorable one to say the least. On my morning rounds, I stopped to say good morning to her and to my surprise there were about 20 perfect white eggs in one of the coconut halves. Ecstatic beyond belief, I needed to find someone to share my excitement and that someone happened to be Senior Aquarist, Chris Paparo. He told me not to get too worked up because he thought there was a high chance that they were infertile. However, I had a strong feeling otherwise and was excited to watch them develop.

With the exception of marine mammals and a few other taxa (damsels, cardinals, crustaceans, etc.), maternal instincts are lacking in the marine world. Most marine organisms release egg and sperm into the water, and hope for the best. The flamboyant cuttlefish is one of those exceptions. Most of the day she spent tending to the eggs, keeping them clear of detritus and other fouling agents, and guarding them from possible predation. Even though she was alone in the tank and there was no predation threat, she would still “pace” back and forth in front of the shells using her tentacles and two leg-like appendages that looked as if they were molded from the bottom of her mantle. Instead of swimming, flamboyant cuttlefish spend most of their time literally walking around on the substrate. This benthic behavior is due to their smaller than normal cuttlebone. All cuttlefish have a cuttlebone, which is made up of calcium carbonate. It is divided into chambers and depending on the buoyancy that a cuttlefish needs, it can either empty or fill these chambers with gas. Since the flamboyant cuttlefish has a small cuttlebone, they have a harder time with their buoyancy and cannot swim for long periods of time without sinking.

On August 10th, approximately a month after the first egg was laid the unimaginable happened and possibly the most important day of my career had come. While giving out her first feed of the day, I noticed the most beautiful, tiny baby cuttlefish hanging out on the wall of her tank. Not believing my eyes, standing there in shock and awe, fellow Aquarist Todd Gardner rounded the corner and asked what I was looking at. As I showed him the 1 cm long carbon copy of the adult flamboyant we stared in silence together, then celebrated for about 5 minutes before starting to think about setting up a tank for Junior.

Here at Atlantis Marine World, we believe in keeping things simple. So for Junior’s tank we used a 10-gallon tank with a hang on the back Aqua Clear mini filter and some live aragonite as substrate. After the new system was running and ready for its first occupant, I carefully scooped up the tiny baby in a deli cup and gently transferred it into its new home. Now for the hard part, what to feed this little guy? After doing some research, I found that newly hatched mysid shrimp were needed to feed Junior. I located a company in Florida, Marinco Bioassay Laboratory, which cultures mysids. After making a call, I ordered the smallest possible mysids they could ship me, which were 7 days old, and hoped it would be suitable. To my relief they were and it didn’t take long for Junior to track them down and consume them. Keeping the water parameters of the tank as close as possible to its mothers was easy enough; it was keeping the right amount of food in the tank that was more difficult. Too few mysids made catching one more difficult, but too many would stress Junior.

Over the next two months ten babies hatched. Unfortunately, two of these hatched prematurely. The two preemies had buoyancy issues and one still had a yolk sac. Needless to say, they did not survive. Keeping all eight hatchlings in the same tank worked at first, but started to become an issue when it came to feeding. Since there was a 2-month difference from the oldest to the youngest, the oldest seemed to be over powering the little ones and eating a majority of the food. At 2 months, the oldest was big enough to eat something more substantial than mysids, so I searched through the shore shrimp tank to find the smallest shore shrimp possible. At about a quarter of an inch long, I broke off the rostrum of the grass shrimp and dropped it in the tank in front of the oldest baby. To my delight he ate it right up. The feeding process started to get tedious and time consuming. It was a real challenge to make sure that all of the babies were getting enough food, so more tanks needed to be set up.

The 10-gallon set up was working just fine, so I set up two more 10-gallon tanks and another 24-gallon Via-Aqua. I size sorted the babies and split them between the four tanks. This seemed to work out well, especially when it came to feeding. Being able to see how much they were eating and weaning them from mysids to grass shrimp was easier and less stressful. Although feedings were simpler, I increased my maintenance workload by three-fold. I was still water changing their mothers’ tank 3 times a week, and now having to do the same for the four baby tanks was repetitive yet necessary to keep up with the proper parameters for these guys to grow and be healthy.

All the work I’ve been putting in with these guys was challenging and monotonous at times but it was beyond worth it. When the oldest babies reached ages of about 4-5 months, they were big enough to be displayed. Getting the “o.k.” to redo the existing cuttlefish exhibit, I replaced all the substrate and décor and revamped the overflow so the smaller cuttlefish would not get stuck to it. Once finished, I moved 6 flamboyant cuttlefish to the 500 gallon half circle exhibit. They got along for the most part. Surprisingly it was the smallest one that caused some trouble. He would get up in the others’ faces, follow them around, and threaten them. Basically it was like he had Napoleon complex and was trying to prove himself. This lasted for about 2 weeks before they all settled down, made peace with each other and made excellent display animals.

Meanwhile, back behind the scenes, their mother was still going strong. She continued to lay hundreds of eggs and took great care of them. There were no more fertile eggs by this point, but she still acted as if there were by guarding and cleaning them. She continued to eat very well until mid-January. Her eye sight started to go and she was missing her food. Like all Cephalopods when it is their time to go it is very sad to watch as they slowly perish. By my calculations she was at least 14 months old, and knowing cephalopods are short lived, I figured she had lived a long, fruitful, and what I hope was a happy life. January 27th was a sad day for me as my first and yet very successful Flamboyant cuttlefish had passed. With all that I have learned from her, I hope I get the chance to repeat this process. All I can do now is wait and see if her legacy will live on with the hope that the courtship I am seeing with the new generation will be equally bountiful.

UPDATE: As of this writing, Allison’s hopes for the second generation have been realized as evidenced by the photos and video below. Several captive bred specimens have now been reared and sent to other aquariums for further study. Congratulations on yet another stunning achievement!



Meeting Abstract

23.4  Tuesday, Jan. 4  Observations on mating behavior and development in the lesser Pacific striped octopus, Octopus chierchiae (Jatta, 1889) HOFMEISTER, J.K.*; ALUPAY, J.S.; ROSS, R.; CALDWELL, R.L.; Univ. of California, Berkeley; Univ. of California, Berkeley; California Academy of Sciences; Univ. of California, Berkeley jenkkhof@berkeley.edu

The lesser Pacific striped octopus, Octopus chierchiae, is a rare and unique pygmy species that, due to its colorful striping pattern, ability to spawn multiple egg clutches in its lifetime (iteroparity), and direct developing young, is a potentially ideal species to culture for both research and the aquarium trade. O. chierchiae is found from the low intertidal zone to at least 40 m from the Gulf of California to Columbia, but has not been observed since the 1980s due to its scarcity in the wild. O. chierchiae’s iteroparity sets it apart from most other octopods and provides an opportunity to not only study the behavior itself, but to gain insight on the control of reproduction. Four males and two females were mated for a total of eight copulations. Video observations of O. chierchiae mating were taken for the first time. Males exhibited an arm twirling behavior, in which the animal spins the tips of his arms in a circular motion. During copulation, the male pounces on the female, consistent with the behavior of other octopods, but also exhibits a second mating position: beak to beak. One of the females produced three viable clutches of eggs and observations were made on the growth and development of the offspring. Males and females start to diverge in weight at about 150 days, and the resulting sexual size dimorphism coincides with the development of secondary sex characteristics in males. O. chierchiae is a highly desirable species, both in research and in the aquarium trade, and the more that is understood about their mating behaviors and habits, the more likely we will be able to culture O. chierchiae.

From Drum and Croaker 2010 Issue

Display, Husbandry and Breeding of Dwarf Cuttle, Sepia bandensis, at the California Academy of Sciences

Richard Ross, Aquatic Biologist, Steinhart Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences,

55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA, 94118 USA

Cuttles seem to always be on the want list for public aquarium displays; however, the species generally available, Sepia officinalis and Sepia pharaonis, require large exhibits which can be a major commitment in both husbandry and cost. It can also be difficult to justify the commitment of show space and resources to such short-lived animals (the life span of most cuttles is typically between 1 and 2 years). However, the dwarf cuttle, Sepia bandensis, is a species that can be housed in a much smaller exhibit than its larger cousins making it an attractive first step into public cuttle displays. Sepia bandensis perform all the exciting and interesting behaviors that make cuttles popular, and can even mate and lay eggs while on display. Even better, S. bandensis are not prone to damaging themselves by jetting into the sides of aquaria. At the California Academy of Sciences, we have been displaying S. bandensis for almost a year, the animals have successfully bred on display and we are well into raising our second generation.

Figure 1: A young Sepia bandensis lounges among the tentacles of a Sarcophyton on display at the Steinhart Aquarium.

Procurement of animals, hatching of wild eggs, and housing of hatchlings

Sepia bandensis eggs are commonly available twice a year, around March and October, from marine wholesalers. In April 2009, the Aquarium received 3 egg clusters of approximately 20 eggs each, from Quality Marine in Los Angeles. The eggs were housed in a 5 gallon critter keeper sitting in a weir box of one of our back of house coral grow out systems. Water quality was coral compatible; temp 26C (78F), salinity 33-35 ppt, pH 8-8.4, calcium 380-400 ppm, alkalinity 7-9 dKH, ammonia 0, nitrate 0-10 ppm (NO3), PO4 0.05 ppm or below.

Water was supplied to the critter keeper by a Maxi Jet 1200 power head in the sump of the system, with the flow rate controlled by a ball valve. The water gravity drained through the slotted lid into the weir box. There was enough flow to gently keep the eggs ‘swaying’ and there were several cupfuls of fine sand on the bottom. By the end of April roughly 50 of the eggs had hatched and the hatchlings were kept as a group in the critter keeper. At this point the water flow was increased in order to keep any food items moving because cuttles hunt moving prey. Traditionally, it seems that hatchling cuttles have been kept in low flow environments, but it seems they do very well in higher flow captive environments as well. Since the hatchlings spend most of their time on the substrate, there was never had a problem with animals getting trapped against the lid as the water overflowed back into the system weir box.

Figure 2: A hatchling S. bandensis among its unhatched siblings 4 days after hatching.

Feeding hatchlings

The biggest challenge raising S. bandensis from eggs is feeding the hatchlings. The challenge is twofold – appropriately sized food and getting enough of it. As the hatchlings grow, the size of the prey item offered needs to increase, and getting enough of any appropriate prey items can be costly. The Aquarium was able to supplement purchased food items with locally caught amphipods, locally caught freshwater mysids, and when the cuttles were larger, locally caught shore crabs of various species.  It is also possible to wean juvenile cuttles onto thawed frozen foods, but this should be supplementary to live foods – more on this later.

Two quick notes on feeding hatchling S. bandensis: 1) Sometimes, hatchlings don’t appear to eat for the first week or so after hatching. It may be the case that they are actually not eating and may still be feeding on the remnants of their yolk sack; it may be that they are eating after lights out; or they may be eating small amphipods or copepods already present in the aquarium. In any event, they seem to come out of it and begin eating voraciously. 2) Enough people have anecdotally tried and failed to raise hatchling S. bandensis on enriched Artemia that I don’t think anyone need to try it again (although a study might be informative).

For the first few weeks after hatching, the hatchlings were fed twice a day with live mysids from Aquatic Biosystems and Aquatic Indictors.  Mysid shrimp were gut loaded with newly hatched Artemia . Live mysids seem to be a perfect food because they are easily caught by the hatchling cuttles. After several weeks, amphipods were introduced into the diet. There seems to be a learning curve to the hunting ability of hatchling S. bandensis; amphipods are strong and when introduced too early in S. bandensis development, they are able to easily escape from the hungry cuttles possibly causing damage.

Around week 4, locally collected fresh water mysids were introduced into the diet, which the cuttles were able to catch and consume before the shock of being placed into saltwater stunned them into no longer moving.

Around week 6 we began to introduce thawed and rinsed frozen Piscine Energetics (PE) mysids into the diet. Initially, these were placed into the aquarium along with live mysids.  Because of the decent flow rate, the cuttles would strike at the PE mysids as they was blown around in the water column. Within a week, one of the daily feedings became solely thawed PE mysids.

Around week 8, our hatchlings were between 1.2 cm (½ inch) and 2.5 cm (1 inch) in mantle length, and larger foods became necessary both from a nutritional and cost perspective. Fresh water ghost shrimp were available from a local wholesaler, however, keeping these alive long term became challenging. Marine ‘janitors’, Palamontes vulgaris, from http://livebrineshrimp.com/ were purchased and easily housed long term in a 20 gallon tank with an air driven sponge filter.  These shrimp were approximately the same length as the cuttles and were readily consumed.

Feeding adolescents and adults

Once the S. bandensis were larger than 2.5 cm (1 inch long), saltwater grass shrimp, Cragnon spp. were purchased from a local bait shop and introduced into the diet. The Cragnon were kept in an auxiliary aquarium on a coldwater system kept at 11C (52F). Purchases of Cragnon include shrimp of different sizes, so it is easy to pick out the best size for the S. bandensis – even though at this size the cuttles can easily take prey larger than themselves. From time to time, they are also fed thawed silversides for variety, and have also been fed live saltwater mollies.

Feeding can be done by hand – the adults swim right to the surface at feeding and will eagerly take live or thawed frozen shrimp out of from your fingers, sometimes squirting you in the face with water from their funnels in the process. A feeding stick (a piece of rigid tubing with a 7.5 cm (3 inch) lengths of 80 pound test fishing line glued to it) can also be used to make sure that individual animals are getting food. For enrichment, the cuttlefish get appropriately sized live crabs or live shrimp introduced quietly into the tank to allow the cuttles to stumble upon them and hunt them at their leisure.


Figure 3: Sepia bandensis can be hand fed. They can be tenacious and can even learn to strike above the surface of the water.

The display tank

When the hatchlings were around twelve weeks old they were ready to be put on display. A tank of approximately 450 L (120 gallons US) with dimensions of 122 cm x 61 cm x 61 cm (48”x24”x24”) that shared a common sump with three other tanks containing fish, inverts and corals was prepared for the cuttles by adding a mix of substrates, river rock, live rock, four large Sarcophyton sp., nine Acanthophyllia deshayesiana, and three Protoreastor sp. sea stars for clean up of uneaten cuttle food.  Two 175 Watt MH pendants containing 20,000K bulbs were added to support the needs of the corals.  A rigid airline tube bubbles air near the surface, and produces aesthetically pleasing glitter lines. The total system volume is approximately 1,165 L (300 gallons US).  Filtration includes various filter socks on the tank returns, a small fluidized reactor containing granular ferric oxide media and activated carbon, and an ASM G4+ protein skimmer. A remote deep sand bed for natural nitrate reduction is planned for the near future. As a result, water quality is maintained near the parameters described above.

Figure 4: Sepia bandensis display at the Steinhart Aquarium.

Initially, thirty juvenile S. bandensis, approximately 2.5 cm (1 inch) in mantle length, were introduced to the display. Since the animals were so small, and so good at camouflage, the idea was to saturate the exhibit with cuttles to make it easier for guests to see them. A graphic of a small cuttle on the substrate was also added to give the guests an idea of what to look for. The plan was to remove animals from the display as they got bigger and began to show sexual characteristics and possible aggression. It seems cuttles can tell the sex of other cuttles on sight, but aquarists can only tell the difference through dominance postures (which aren’t always accurate) or by directly observing mating.

Over the next several months, that strategy worked out well. The S. bandensis ate and grew and the males began to show themselves by facing of with each other, stretching and widening their bodies while darkening their patterns in a presumed effort to assert sexual dominance. There were a few losses, noticeable by the discovery of cuttlebones with beak bites missing from them: looking like a surfboard after a shark attack. It is unclear if the losses were due to natural aggression or cannibalism resulting from inadequate quantities of food or frequency of feedings.

As the animals matured, some were removed from the display to holding tanks behind the scenes, leaving a population of six S. bandensis on display: four females, one large male and one smaller male. Since the males are generally the aggressors in this species, the larger/smaller relationship was settled on in order to curtail dominance fighting.

Figure 5: A juvenile male S. bandensis displaying the color and posture that can be used to differentiate the sexes. Note the roundish mark on the mantle – this seems to be a bite mark from dominance behaviors.


Like other cuttles, S. bandensis mate ‘fact to face’, intertwining arms for several minutes. Mating was observed in the animals on display at around sixteen weeks. Interestingly enough, while the larger male would be facing off with his reflection in the acrylic, the smaller male would be mating.  As soon as the larger male noticed, the smaller male would stop, or be prevented from mating by the larger male.


Even though mating had been witnessed for approximately four weeks, eggs weren’t discovered in the exhibit until the S. bandensis were about twenty weeks old. Eggs were laid one at a time, with a bit of ink incorporated into the ‘skin’ of the egg. Each egg took between two and five minutes to be laid and placed into the egg cluster, which is often attached to a rock in the exhibit. Clusters can be built up over several days and can range in size from a few eggs to 40 or 50 eggs. There does seem to be some post-laying parental interest in the eggs, with both the female and dominant male jetting water over the eggs from time to time for a few days after laying. It is unclear if clusters are laid by only one female at a time, or if several females can build clusters at the same time.


Figure 6: A female S. bandensis about to add an egg to an existing clutch. The male is below the clutch.

As the eggs developed and swelled they were moved off display and back into the critter keeper behind the scenes where we raised the parents. The eggs hatched in approximately one month.

Before working at the Steinhart Aquarium the author had bred S. bandensis several times in his home cephalopod breeding system.  Although many eggs were laid the hatch rate was very low.  In contrast, the amount of eggs laid at the Steinhart Aquarium was surprising, as was the number of eggs that hatched. Between August and November, approximately 600 eggs were laid on display, with the majority of them being viable. Over 300 eggs and hatchlings have been sent to other institutions. Egg laying didn’t end in December, but it did slow down noticeably. It will be interesting to see if fecundity drops off as the breeding group gets older. The author believes much of this breeding success is attributable to the amount of live food always available at the Steinhart Aquarium. The author’s home setup, didn’t allow for the housing of Cragnon spp., so there were frozen and fed out as needed. However, at the Aquarium frozen food was only kept as an emergency backup, and feed live food was fed twice a day instead. Further study is needed to determine the relationship between fresh and frozen food on fecundity of S. bandensis.

Preparing for the next group

With the success of the S. bandensis breeding on display, we replaced the critter keeper in back of house with a cube system plumbed into the same coral grow out system. There are now three cubes 30 cm x 25 cm x 25 cm (12”x10”x10”), fed by the same Maxijet 1200 power head, and gravity draining into the same sump that were used before.  At the time of writing there are approximately thirty three-month-old cuttles, approximately eighty one-month-old cuttles along with several clutches of eggs both behind the scenes and on display. There are also several three-month-old S. bandensis that were purchased as eggs in September for genetic diversity when it appeared we would be successful with our breeding program.


Figure 7: Lots of hatchlings and unhatched S. bandensis. Feeding them all can be an expensive endeavor.

Final thoughts

The refined group of S. bandensis on display has been remarkably stable with very little fighting over time.

The amount of water flow in the display is fast enough for the Sarcophyton to visibly sway back and forth. S. bandensis don’t seem to care if the flow is fast or slow, and don’t seem to be working very hard to stay in position in the areas of higher flow.

The display of S. bandensis has been very successful from a husbandry standpoint and a guest experience standpoint – the cuttles are very popular with both docents and guests. Feeding time is especially popular!

We look forward to breeding more of these animals and sharing both display and breeding stock with other institutions.


The author would like to thank:

Matt Wandell, J. Charles Delbeek, Seth Wolters, Nancy Levine, April Devitt and Pam Montbach for helping to feed and care for these animals. Bart Shepherd for approving and supporting the display and breeding program of dwarf cuttlefish. J. Charles Delbeek, Bart Shepherd, Chris Andrews and Laura Kormos for their input on this article. Chris Maupin and Dr. James Wood for their help when beginning to keep and breed S. bandensis, and all of the members of www.TONMO.com for their help and support over the years.


Ross, R. “Sepia bandensis; Husbandry and breeding.” Tropical Fish Hobbyist, August 2009: (pp102-106)

Internet References




Ross, R. “Keeping and breeding the dwarf cuttlefish Sepia bandensis.” Advanced Aquarist, September 2005: http://www.advancedaquarist.com/2005/9/aafeature. Republished on TheCephalopodPage May 2007: http://thecephalopodpage.org/Sepiabandensis.php.



From Advanced Aquarist Online and Reef Life Magazine.

The Flamboyant cuttle is one of the most amazing animals I have encountered in the wild or in captivity. They are beautiful, masterful predators that live fast and die young. It is my hope that one day they will be bred in captivity and readily available for all cephalopod enthusiasts.

Cuttlefish are the artists of the sea. . They float through the water like oceanic ballet dancers. Their feeding tentacles shoot forward with a speed, accuracy and control that would make a martial artist weep.  One minute they have the color and texture of a smooth rock; the next they flash complex three dimensional patterns and suddenly resemble a monster out of Greek myth. While all cuttlefish share these abilities, there is one species that takes these arts to an apex, making the rest look like dull amateurs – the aptly named Flamboyant Cuttlefish.

Hatchling Metasepia with a mysid shrimp in the background for scale. The ‘rocks’ are grains of sand.

The Flamboyant cuttlefish, Metasepia pfefferi, is an astonishing little animal found primarily in muck habitats. These vast, rolling underwater plains of settled silt and mud appear desolate at first glance, but are in fact populated by an unexpectedly large number of strange animals including frogfish, ghost pipefish and a stunning array of nudibranchs. Fitting right in with these odd neighbors, the Flamboyant is normally a master of camouflage blending in completely with the grey substrate. When startled, however, those previously subdued colors change to bright purples, reds, yellows and whites. The colors shine out in coruscating patterns along the animal’s body.

Flamboyants are incredibly bold, even when startled, and will hold their ground while putting on their color show for an amazingly long time. These fantastic displays have helped make ‘muck’ diving popular, have put Flamboyant cuttlefish on the top of underwater photographer/videographers “must shoot list” and have made them a pined-for-but-rarely-obtained aquarium specimen.

Hatchling Metasepia on sand, with all the coloration that adults have.

What’s in a name?

The ‘Flamboyant’ part of the common name is easy to understand, but the ‘cuttle’ or the ‘fish’ part might be a little less straightforward.

The origins of the word ‘cuttlefish’ or ‘cuttle’ have not been been nailed down. According  to cephalopod researcher John W Forsythe, “The name Cuttlefish originally came about as the best guess of how to spell or pronounce the Dutch or perhaps Norwegian name for these beasts. It is derived from something like ‘codele-fische’ or ‘kodle-fische’. In German today, cuttlefish and squids are called tintenfische, meaning ‘ink-fish’. I’ve been told that the term fische actually refers to any creature that lives in the sea or are caught in nets when fishing, not just fishes. Anyway, that’s what I understand the derivation of name to be.”

Adult Metasepia.

Recently there has been a movement, at least in public aquariums, to make the names of certain animals more ‘correct’ to avoid confusion. For instance, neither Jellyfish nor Starfish are fish, thus they are now referred to as Jellies and Sea Stars respectively. Perhaps it is time to refer to cuttlefish as cuttles, because they aren’t fish at all. Cephalopod researcher Dr. James Wood sums it up clearly; “Octopuses, squids, cuttlefish and the chambered nautilus belong to class Cephalopoda, which means ‘head foot’. Cephalopods are a class in the phylum Mollusca which also contains bivalves (scallops, oysters, clams), gastropods (snails, slugs, nudibranchs), scaphopods (tusk shells) and polyplacophorans (chitons)”, however unlike their relatives, cephalopods move much faster, actively hunt their food, and seem to be quite intelligent.”

Nuts and bolts

There are actually two species in the Metasepia genus, Metasepia pfefferi, the Flamboyant cuttlefish, sometimes referred to as Pfeffer’s Flamboyant cuttlefish, found from the Indonesia to northern Australia to Papua New Guinea, and Metasepia tullbergi, the Paint pot cuttlefish, found from Hong Kong to southern Japan. Both species are small, having a mantle length of 6-8 centimeters, with the females’ being larger than males. Distinguishing the species visually is difficult, and telling them apart relies on subtle differences in the animals’ cuttlebones.

Metasepia, like all cephalopods, have three hearts (two branchial or gill hearts, and systemic heart that pumps blood through the rest of the body), a ring shaped brain, and blue, copper based blood. They have 8 arms, with two rows of suckers along each arm, and two feeding tentacles tipped with a tentecular club. The shafts of the feeding tentacles are smooth, while the grasping face of the club is covered with suckers, some of which are proportionally huge. The tentacles and tentecular club shoot forward to snare prey and pull it back to the arms. Once gripped by the arms, the preyis manipulated to a beak-like mouth and a wire brush like tongue called a radula, both of which help reduce the prey to appropriate size to be eaten.  Reducing the food size is critical because the esophagus actually runs through the middle of the cuttle’sring shaped brain; swallowing something too big might damage the brain.

The Flamboyant’s striking color changes are accomplished by organs in the skin called chromatophores The chromatophores are neurally controlled and allow for instant color changes over the entire skin of the cuttlefish by triggering muscles to change the amount of pigment that is displayed. The skin patterns aren’t necessarily static either, they can move, like animation on a TV screen, and are thought to aid in communication, hunting and camouflage. This is evidenced on the dorsal surface of the mantle where violet stripes can often be seen pulsing across the white areas Metasepia.


In addition, to evade predators or hide from prey, Flamboyants can also change the shape of their skin by manipulating papillae across their bodies to break up their body outline. The larger papillae on the top side of the Flamboyant cuttlefish’s mantle don’t change at all.

Flamboyants use a three-tiered approach for movement. They have a fin that girds their mantle that allows for fine movement, and they can use jet propulsion via water pumped over the gills and through their funnel, which allows for surprisingly fast movement. Most amusingly, Flamboyant cuttles often amble or walk across the substrate using their outside pair of arms and two lobes on the underside of their mantle as ‘legs’. In my experience, Metasepia prefer this walking to swimming and only leave the substrate when extremely threatened or are overly harassed by groups of divers overzealously trying to get the perfect photo.

One of the most well known features of cuttles is the cuttle bone, which is often used by pet owners to provide calcium for caged birds. Cuttlefish use this multi chambered internal calcified ‘shell’ to change buoyancy by quickly filling or emptying the chambers with gas. Interestingly, while the cuttle bone of most cuttles is as long as the animal’s mantle, the diamond shaped cuttlebone of the Flamboyant is disproportionately small, thin, and only 2/3 to ¾ of the mantle length. The small size of the cuttlebone may make swimming difficult and may accounts for the Flamboyants preference to ‘walk’ along the bottom.


Like other cephalopods, Flamboyant cuttles can also produce copious amounts of ink if startled. It is thought that the ink acts as a smokescreen to allow the cuttlefish to escape predation, but most of the Metasepiainking events I have seen have been more along the lines of ‘pseudomorphs’, or blobs of ink that are thought to further aid in escape from predation by presenting the predator with multiple targets.


Recent research by cephalopod researcher Mark Norman, as reported in the episode of the television series NOVA – Kings of Camouflage, takes a step at explaining the weird colors, the fearlessness, and walking behaviors of the of the flamboyant cuttlefish.

According to Norman “Well, it turns out the flamboyant cuttlefish is toxic. It’s as toxic as blue-ringed octopuses. And blue-ringed octopuses have killed humans from their bites, so we’ve got the first deadly cuttlefish in the world. And it’s amazing on a couple of levels. First of all, it’s actually poisonous flesh, the muscles themselves are poisonous. So this is the first time that flesh that is deadly has been reported in any of these groups of animals. And secondly, the toxin itself is not known. It’s some completely different class of toxins. And toxins like those could be the key to whole new discoveries for lots of human medical conditions… This is a fantastic result, because it makes sense of what we’re seeing in the wild. And this toxicity, this poisonousness is probably what’s underpinning the whole weird behavior of the animal. And the fact that a group of animals that normally swim around or spend a lot of time trying to be camouflaged, have become so obvious, have given up swimming, are walking everywhere, it’s like a major step towards a whole new line in the evolution of these animals.”

It is also possible the bite and ink of the Flamboyant contains toxins, so any handling of these animals should be taken with a good deal of caution and forethought.


Metasepia begin life as tiny eggs laid in crevices or under overhangs or sometimes hidden inside a sunken coconut husk. The eggs are laid individually, and are approximately 8 mm in diameter. Unlike some cuttlefish species, the female does not incorporate ink into the egg mass, so the egg appears to be white or translucent.  This makes it easy to see the developing cuttle inside., Hatchlings are roughly 6mm in length at hatching and are miniature versions of adults. These are instant predators ready to get out into the world and start changing colors and eating a diet of mostly small crustaceans, stomatopods and sometimes fish.

A 2 day old hatchling Metasepia. Note the coin is under the container holding the animal.

Like all cephalopods, Metasepia grow very quickly and can reach adult size somewhere between 4 and 6 months after hatching.Adult female Metasepia are larger than males, reaching 8 centimeters in mantle length while males top off at less than 4-6 centimeters in mantle length; this may account for the size discrepancy in descriptions of these animals. Like most cuttles, Metasepia mate by coupling head to head. The male deposits a packet of sperm called a spermatophore, via a groved arm called a hectocotylus into a pouch in the female’s mantle.  The mating is very fast, the male darting in, making his deposit, and darting away, perhaps due to the threatening size difference of the mates.

Metasepia have a lifespan of about a year, and the end can be ugly as the animal enters into what is known as senescence. Motor control begins to fail, lesions can appear on the skin, and the cephalopod seems not to care about anything, including food or having arm tips eaten by bristleworms or hermit crabs.

Keeping Metasepia: Ethical considerations

The idea of keeping the more exotic cephs – Wunderpus photogenicus, Thaumoctopus mimicus, and bothMetasepia spp – has generated much discussion in cephalopod circles, mostly because the size and health of their wild populations is unknown. Even the sharing of information, photos or video of these animals in captivity can be controversial. Some fear that detailed information and attractive photos may encourage inexperienced saltwater aquarists to obtain specimens and encourage over-collection, perhaps impacting the ability of wild populations to recover.

Personally, believe that the admiration of a species can be of benefit to its preservation in the wild rather than its detriment. Experienced cephalopod keepers can and have made positive additions to the overall knowledge about these animals. My hope is that the open sharing of information empowers aquarists to make sound, rational decisions regarding the advisability of keeping these animals.

Keeping Metasepia is not something that should be entered into on a whim and even experienced cephalopod keepers with mature tanks should think long and hard before obtaining this species. Their needs are resource intensive, specific, and not yet fully understood, so if you do decide to take give it a go, take your time and please document your efforts so others can learn from your successes and mistakes.

Getting an animal

The biggest drawback to keeping any cephalopod in aquaria is getting one. Cephalopods are notoriously terrible shippers, often arriving at their destination dead in a bag of ink-filled water. This may have to do with an inherent inability of the animal to deal with the stress of shipping, or it may be because the time and effort needed to ship these animals successfully is not well understood. Either way, currently importers are wary of ordering these animals because of their poor survival rate through the chain of custody.

The aquarium trade does not distinguish between the Metasepia species, and if you are lucky enough to find one, and willing to pay between 300 and 800 dollars US per animal, you really can’t be sure which species you have. I do think that most of the animals that make it into the trade are actually Metasepia tullbergi from Japan where they have been tank raised. Metasepia pfefferi, to be best of my knowledge, have not tank been tank raised anywhere.

What’s even worse about trying to obtain one of these animals for your aquarium is the idea that most of the animals imported are single adult males, which means they may only live for weeks or months and there is no possibility of eggs or breeding. Over the past 7 years I have been able to obtain 3 live Metasepiaspecimens, once driving from San Francisco to Los Angles and back in the same day to give the animal every chance to survive. All were adult males and lived between 2 and 4 months.


A mature aquarium with stable reef like water quality is necessary for housing Metasepia. Water temperature should be approx 78f (25.5c), salinity 33.5-34.5 ppt, pH 8.1-8.4, with ammonia, nitrite and nitrate as close to 0 as possible.  Ammonia seems to be particularly problematic for cephalopods so regular testing and an ‘ammonia alert’ card are useful to determine the frequency of needed water changes.

Metasepia and the authors wife in Lembah, Suliwesi.

A good skimmer is necessary to provide oxygen and nutrient export as well as to provide “insurance” for any inking events. Carbon, along with mixed and heated saltwater for water changes is good to have on hand as well for any inking. A good amount of live rock and/or macro algae is a good “bonus” for filtration and shelter.

A substrate area of at least 36×12 inches (standard 30 gallon breeder aquarium) is recommended to provide enough ‘walking’ room for a single animal. I prefer to use a muck substrate substitute like Carib-Sea mineral mud, in combination with 4×6 inch sections of any of the ‘mud’ products available, but since Metasepia don’t dig, a fine sand bottom will also work adequately.

Simple fluorescent lighting is enough for the Metasepia, though something more powerful may be necessary if keeping macro algae or simple non-stinging (DiscosomaNeptheaXenia etc) corals along with the cephalopod. High intensity lighting should be fine as these animals are diurnal.

When possible, I like to keep my cephalopod tanks plumbed into a larger reef system. This allows for a larger overall water volume, more stable water conditions and alleviates the need for extra equipment. SinceMetasepia don’t escape from aquariums like their octopus cousins, a tight fitting lid isn’t needed and plumbing into an existing system is easy. Best of all, a tank plumbed into a larger system can be taken off line and put on line very quickly given the availability of Metasepia.

I prefer to not keep any other fish or ceph with the Metasepia. Either the Metasepia will eat the fish or the fish will harass the Metasepia. In reality, these animals are so rare in the trade that I am an advocate of anything that gives them a better chance at survival… which means avoiding annoying tank mates. Clean up crew animals such as snails, hermit crabs in moderation, and bristle worms won’t be eaten by the Metasepia, and will help clean up any uneaten food.

If the Flamboyant arrives in good condition, it may start eating right away – the three I have been able to obtain over the years have eaten within minutes of being released into the aquarium. Metasepia seem to need to eat more than other cuttles, and I suggest feeding them at least 3 times a day. If the animal doesn’t get enough food, it may begin to float at the surface and not be able to fully submerge; it seems lack of food may be related to poor buoyancy control. I have heard accounts of the backs of under-fed Metasepia actually drying out from the animal not being able to get away from the water’s surface.

Almost any live shrimp will be eaten with gusto. I have used live and frozen saltwater ghost shrimp(Palaemontes Vulgaris) and local San Francisco bay bait shrimp (Cragnon spp) with great success. Start with live and then experiment with thawed frozen because one of the most important things you want from a newly imported Metesepia is to get the cuttle eating. Live crabs seem less interesting to Metasepia than to other cephalopods, and thawed frozen krill has been flatly ignored.

Late Breaking News

After 8 years of fruitless effort, I was able to obtain a group of Metasepia for captive breeding at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences. While the group suffered 80% loss in the first week, 90% in the first month,  we were able to mate one male with several females which then laid eggs. Some of the eggs have developed, and at the time of writing, we have two hatchling Metasepia and several more eggs developing. This is a good, but baby step on the road to being able to keep and breed these animals in captivity. I am working hard to keep the hatchlings alive.

What this experience tells me is that even with all the resources of a Public Aquarium, wild caught, adult Metasepia are difficult to keep alive for any length of time. However, the small success means there is hope on the horizon for studying, appreciating, and breeding this amazing cephalopod in captivity.


The Flamboyant cuttle is one of the most amazing animals I have encountered in the wild or in captivity. They are beautiful, masterful predators that live fast and die young. It is my hope that one day they will be bred in captivity and readily available for all cephalopod enthusiasts.

If you are interested in keeping cephalopods, there are several species that are easily available, better understood and make better starter cephs than Metasepia. Please do some reading on www.TONMO.combefore purchasing any cephalopod.

References and other sources of Information

Hard Copy:

  1. Dunlop, C and King, N. 2008. Cephalopods: Octopuses and Cuttlefish for the Home Aquarium. TFH Publications. 269 pages
  2. Hanlon, RT and Messenger. 1996. Cephalopod Behaviour. Cambridge University Press. 232 pages
  3. Jereb, P. and Roper, C.F.E. (editors). 2005. Cephalopods of the world. Issue 4, Volume 1, FAO. PP 60-62
  4. Norman, Mark. 2000. ‘Cephalopods a world guide’. ConchBooks : pp.86-89
  5. Nesis, KN. 1987. Cephalopods of the World. TFH publications. 351 pages


  1. Nova, Kings of Camouflage; http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/3404_camo.html
  2. Wood, J and Jackson, K, How Cephalopods Change Color;http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/cephschool/HowCephalopodsChangeColor.pdf
  3. CephBase; http://www.cephbase.utmb.edu/TCP/faq/TCPfaq2b.cfm?ID=4
  4. www.TONMO.com
  5. www.DaisyHillCephFarm.org
  6. www.TheCephalopodPage.org

From Advanced Aquarist Online and Reef Life Magazine

(With special thanks to Dr. Roy Caldwell)
Octopus chierchiae is an amazing little animal and  is clearly worth further study.
Without a doubt, octopuses are intriguing animals. Eight sucker covered arms, three hearts, copper based blood, defensive ink, a bird like beak, phenomenal carnivorous prey-stalking abilities, color-changing skin, eyes with an intelligent gleam and the apparent intelligence to escape the aquarium to explore all make keeping octopus a thrilling and fascinating endeavor.

In recent years there has been much public interest in the so-called ‘zebra’ octopuses – Wunderpus photogenicus and Thaumoctopus mimicus. And with good reason, as these animals can be stunning in coloration, patterning and displays. As their common moniker implies, these octopus can display distinctive black and white stripes over their mantle and arms. But there is another ‘zebra’ octopus that is rarely seen which may turn out to be even more fascinating than its better known cousins – the pygmy octopusOctopus chierchiae.

Richard Ross: The first Octopus chierchiae during acclimation.

Nuts and bolts

Octopus chierchiae is a striking, small octopus. The skin of the adult is usually a creamy color with dark bands bordered by white all over the body and arms. At times, the same individual bands can fade so the whole animal appears creamy with creamy stripes. At other times, that same specimen may become translucent, revealing the branchial, or gill, hearts beating in the animal’s pointed mantle. Finally, that same specimen might a uniform, dark brown. The skin itself alternates between a smooth and a bumpy texture, and there are star shaped papillae around each eye as well as prominent papillae towards the tip of the mantle.

Octopus chierchiae occurs along the pacific coast of Panama and Nicaragua, living in the low inter-tidal zone where they may be periodically exposed to air and may survive in water that collects in rock cavities between tides. Being from this zone, it may be that this species is tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and salinities. Although they have been described in one of the few scientific papers about them as ‘common’, they may not be, or they may simply only be common at certain times of year. We simply don’t know because the science hasn’t been done. One expedition to collect these animals for research was unable to obtain a single specimen. If these octopuses are indeed not common, negative impact on wild populations due to collection is a very real possibility, as these animals are recognizable, andeasy to collect due to the environment they live in.

The lifespan of Octopus chierchiae is currently unknown, but thought to be roughly a year. The longest lived wild caught animal was kept alive for approximately 8 months.

One of the most astonishing features of this species is the female’s ability to lay multiple clutches of eggs over its lifetime. The reproductive strategy for most octopuses is semelparous, laying many small eggs at once and then dying. The small eggs almost always hatch as planktonic paralarvae and are essentially impossible to raise in captivity (although there has recently been some small success in that area). Octopus chierchiaehowever, is iteroparous, and it lays several, smaller clutches of eggs before dying. What makes Octopus chierchiae even more attractive from a breeding standpoint is that the eggs are large, and the hatchlings emerge essentially as miniature adults which makes raising the hatchlings possible in captive environments.

Females are larger than males, reaching a dorsal mantle length of 25mm and 18 mm respectively. The males have a hectocotylus, or grove, on the third right hand arm when the animal is viewed from above that is used to pass sperm packets to the female. It also appears that the males have ‘fringing’ along the tips of the arms that is absent in females.

It is also possible these animals are toxic in some way – their striking coloring and patterning seems very much like warning to would be predators. However, whether the bite is toxic or the flesh is toxic is a question that will have to wait for further research.


Octopus chierchiae was first briefly described by G Jatta in 1889. Most of what we know about their lifecycle and behavior comes from a paper written in 1984 by Arcadio F. Rodaniche, along with some first hand observations by cephalopod researcher Dr Roy Caldwell. In the early 1970’s Dr. Caldwell collected severalOctopuschierchiae while doing stomatopod research in Panama, and treated them as a curiosity. This experience was partly responsible for Dr. Caldwell becoming interested in studying pygmy octopuses. It was he who later returned to Panama to collect Octopus chierchiae and was unable to find a single specimen.

Since then, Dr Caldwell has obtained specimens of Octopus chierchiae sporadically, and they have leaked into the pet trade from time to time. The issue with getting them is there are few marine ornamental collectors in that part of South America, and they don’t collect and ship in a consistent manner for any animals, never mind a ‘specialty’ animal like a cephalopod. Dr. Caldwell wrote about them once onwww.TONMO.com (the online source for all things ceph related), but since they were so rare in the trade and in research, I never imagined I would be able to work with them.

As luck would have it…

In early April 2008, I received an email from a supplier asking if I was interested in some zebra octopus they had received from Indonesia. One was a Wunderpus, but the other was clearly something different. It looked like Octopus chierchiae. Later discussion revealed that the specimen did not come from Indonesia, but rather arrived as a stow away in a gastropod shell in a shipment from Nicaragua. I asked for the animal to be shipped to me and went about modifying part of my cuttle system into an octopus system in anticipation of its arrival.

Richard Ross: A male swimming in the water column. Note the ‘fringing’ on the arm tips and the hectocotlys is visable on the arm under the mantle

Roy Caldwell; Octopus chierchiae mating, male on top.

Richard Ross; Female in her barnacle den with eggs getting ready to hatch

Octopus are escape artists, inter-tidal octopus like Octopus chierchiae even more so because they are used to crawling around in areas without much water. They can also be cannibalistic, so keeping them separate is imperative. Luckily, the modifications were fast and straightforward because the system was mature, with Carib-Sea ‘mineral mud’ substrate. All that was needed was some ‘octo proofing’ of part of my cuttle breeding system. The cuttle system was a cube system with the cubes divided by slotted acrylic that an octopus could easily fit though, so I bought some small pored commercially-available aquarium divider material, cut it to size and super glued it in place over the slots while the tank was still full of water. Even though I didn’t think it would be possible for the octopus to escape through the return plumbed into each cube, I also covered the return… the chance simply wasn’t worth taking. I also purchased some large glass tiles to place over each cube and the system was ready to go.

The octopus arrived, was acclimated and introduced into its new home. Its mantle was about 15 mm across, and all of its arms were intact and looked healthy.

I wanted some kind of den or hiding place for the octopus, but wanted to be able to easily check on the animal’s health – and to be sure it hadn’t escaped or died. Some dwarf octopus live in gastropod shells, but such dens would have made it difficult to keep track of the animals because they could easily disappear deep down into the spiral of the shell.. My initial offering, a piece of large vinyl tubing, was ignored, so I replaced it with large individual barnacle shells and the Octopus chierchiae quickly took up residence.

I offered live shore shrimp (Palaemontes v ulgaris) but they were ignored for the first few days, as were local San Francisco bay bait shrimp (Cragnon spp). I collected some local shore crabs (hemigrapsis spp), which were taken with gusto, although that might have been because the octopus were hungry rather than due to a preference for crabs. The crabs stopped struggling within seconds of being bitten which may point to possible toxicity of Octopus chierchiae.

Cephalopood researcher Dr Christine Huffard came byto take a look at the animal and confirm the identification. She alsodetermined that the animal was female. I immediately followed up with the initial supplier, as well as others, asking if they could get more specimens.. If we could get more, not only would we could learn more about them, but we could perhaps establish a breeding population which could benefit both research and hobbyists.

An online retailer had one Octopus chierchiae listed, which I quickly bought. He also told me that they had seen 4 more individuals at their supplier. I immediately sent them more money, but in a heartbreaking turn of events, it turned out that they had escaped into the wholesalers live rock holding tanks… never to be seen again. Fortuitously, when the second Octopus chierchiae arrived it turned out to be a male andDr Caldwell, Dr Huffard and I set up a date the next week to attempt to mate them

I’ll never forget that night, the three of us crowed around a 3 gallon tank, in the dark, with multiple still and video cameras ready to document the cephalopod pornography. When we put the male and female together, they copulated within minutes. The smaller male sized up the female and then quickly jumped on her, inserting his hectocotylized arm into her mantle. The mating lasted several minutes and the animals were then returned to their individual homes. It was like cephalopod Christmas morning.

Here be hatchlings

Two weeks later, a second male arrived, thanks to a donation by a generous and selfless hobbyist. Dr. Caldwell came over to mate the second male to the female. When I went to move the female to the photography tank I discovered a clutch of eggs in her barnacle den.

Richard Ross; 2 day old Octopus chierchiae hatchling over US dime (approx 18mm) for size reference. Coins can contain metals that are deadly to cephalopods, so the coin was actually under the container that contained the octopus.

Richard Ross; Octopus chierchiae at day 85.

Roy Caldwell: 4 day old Octopus chierchiae hatchling with chromatophores developing.

Roy Caldwell; 30 day old Octopus chierchiae hatchling on calcarious worm tube used as dens.

Over the next few days, she tipped her den opening down and would walk around her tank as if she were trying to de-evolve back into a snail. If disturbed, she would use her arms inside the barnacle and against the bottom of the tank to ‘suck’ the barnacle to the bottom of the tank. I gently tried to pull up the den to see what was going on inside, but stopped because it was going to take a great deal of effort to separate it from the tank and I didn’t want to risk damaging her or the eggs.

Over the next several weeks I eagerly awaited hatchlings. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the female would sneak an arm out from under the barnacle to take freshly killed shrimp; according to Rodaniche the females don’t eat during brooding. While waiting for the eggs to hatch, I prepared for hatchlings.

I built a water table to house individual octopus hatchling containers. I took small, clear plastic containers, cut a slot in their sides and glued netting from a commercially available net breeder over the slots. I drilled a hole in each lid and glued a piece of rigid tubing into the hole. I then attached airline tubing to a valved manifold fed by a small power head. I drilled a second hole in the top of each container for feeding. This set up was inexpensive, allowed me to add containers as necessary, allowed me to control the amount of water in each container, and gave me easy access and easy viewing to each container with minimal stress to the hatchling during feeding.

Finally the first hatchlings arrived. I discovered in them one morning, and found them to be an amazing orange color, very different from the adult coloration. They swam in the water column bouncing up and down like fishing bobbers. Over the next 20 days I discovered hatchlings in 1s and 2s, for a total of 23 hatchlings from the first clutch. I fed them small amphipods collected from the aquarium glass elsewhere in the system, and gave them black airline tubing to use as dens – which they ignored. About half of the hatchlings went to Dr. Caldwell’s lab, where they were kept in glass jars with netting over the mouth to prevent escape in a larger aquarium, and were given calcareous tube worm tubes as dens – which they immediately took to.

Richard Ross: Octopus chierchiae hatchling eating an amphipod bigger than itself.

Roy Caldwell: Octopus chierchiae hatchling in an 'arms up' defensive post

As the hatchlings grew they were given larger amphipods both cultured and collected from around the San Francisco Bay. As mentioned earlier, everyone knows that octopuses are amazing predators, but there is something phenomenal about watching a 5 mm long animal hunt, capture and eat a 7 mm long amphipod.

The extended Cephalopod community

For several years now, Octopus chierchiae have been www.TONMO.com’s most wanted octopus, so the obtaining of specimens and the successful breeding of these animals made for excitement among cephalopod enthusiasts. As it happened, a few more Octopus chierchiae had turned up across the country. Since broodstock is a traditional stumbling block to getting captive cephalopod breeding populations established, I asked all three of the people who had an Octopus chierchiae, to send them to me, letting them know that Dr. Caldwell and I would gladly pay for them. If our breeding project was successful, we would send them hatchlings as replacements. We were able to get two more males from generous hobbyists. There was one hobbyist that had a female and ended up with hatchlings, but wasn’t able to get them into the effort. This was unfortunate because we needed the genetic diversity. The hunt for more animals went on for months, but none were to be found and the South American supplier had ceased shipping.

Some Final Details

  • Two of the hatchlings climbed up the side of their containers, and met a grisly, dried out death. Several more of the hatchlings were lost due to an unfortunate ammonia spike, while others were lost to unfortunate salinity drops. Others were lost for unknown reasons.
  • The hatchling wet weight at 3 days was 22.3 mg, while at day 123, the wet weight was 330 mg.
  • The female was mated to 3 males, resulting in 3 clutches laid and 46 discovered hatchlings (some may have undetected on hatching and escaped into the larger system).
  • There were more male hatchlings than females. The longest lived male survived for 340 days, while the longest-lived female lasted 326 days. Both of these far exceed the lifespan of any wild-caught specimen on record.
  • Any attempted sibling or oedipal matings resulted in no eggs being laid.
  • We were not able to obtain any more specimens, so the effort ended after all the animals died.

In conclusion

Octopus chierchiae is an amazing little animal and is clearly worth further study. Every time I speak to a supplier I ask about getting more from South America, but a year and a half has passed without further specimens. It is my hope that someday we’ll succeed in establishing a viable breeding program, and in the process learn more about this fascinating little ‘zebra’ octopus.

References and Resources

Hard Copy

  1. Boyle, PR and Rodhouse, P. 2005. Cephalopods: ecology and fisheries. Wiley-Blackwell, 452 pages
  2. Dunlop, C and King, N. 2008. Cephalopods: Octopuses and Cuttlefish for the Home Aquarium. TFH Publications. 269 pages
  3. Hanlon, RT and Messenger. 1996. Cephalopod Behaviour. Cambridge University Press. 232 pages
  4. Rodaniche AF (1984) Iteroparity in the Lesser Pacific Striped Octopus, Octopus chierchiae. (Jatta, 1889). Bull Mar Sci 35:99–104
  5. Caldwell, Roy. Private communication.


  1. Octopus chierchiae mating video: http://www.stickycricket.com/aquarium/movies/oc_movie.html
  2. www.TONMO.com
  3. www.DaisyHillCephFarm.org
  4. www.TheCephalopodPage.org



From Reefbuilders

Metasepia pfefferi is an amazing species of flamboyant cuttlefish and I have recently had the opportunity to obtain multiple specimens of this species for the first time in 8 years. These flamboyant cuttlefish wasted little time getting on with mating, and with a little luck we’ll get to observe egg laying – and with a lot of luck egg hatching. I am incredibly excited about this video – you can see the males hectocotylus near the end of the vid! Currently, the Steinhart Aquarium has one Flamboyant on display and several more ‘off show’ for a breeding attempt. Before people rush out and try to obtain these guys, please remember that like all adult cuttles, they ship poorly. What does that actually mean? 80-100% DOA or DAA for animals that retail in the 300 to 600 dollar range. Furthermore, since they have a short lifespan (12 months or so) getting adults means that your time with them is going to be to short.

Metasepia are astonishing little animals found primarily in muck habitats. These vast, rolling underwater plains of settled silt and mud appear desolate at first glance, but are in fact populated by an unexpectedly large number of strange animals including frogfish, ghost pipefish and a stunning array of nudibranchs. Fitting right in with these odd neighbors, the Flamboyant Cuttle  is normally a master of camouflage blending in completely while walking along the grey substrate. When startled, however, those previously subdued colors change to bright purples, reds, yellows and whites. The colors shine out in coruscating patterns along the animal’s body probably to indicate the animals toxicity. The idea of keeping the more exotic cephs has generated much discussion in cephalopod circles, mostly because the size and health of their wild populations is unknown (and, at least in areas collected the populations seem to suffer). Even the sharing of information, photos or video of these animals in captivity can be controversial as some fear that detailed information and attractive photos and video may encourage inexperienced saltwater aquarists to obtain specimens and encourage over-collection, perhaps impacting the ability of wild populations to recover.

Personally, I believe that the admiration of a species can be of benefit to its preservation in the wild rather than its detriment.  My hope is that the open sharing of information empowers aquarists to make sound, rational decisions regarding the advisability of keeping and not keeping these animals. In other words, keeping Metasepia is not something that should be entered into on a whim and even experienced cephalopod keepers with mature tanks should think long and hard before trying to obtain this species. Their needs are resource intensive, expensive, and not yet fully understood, so at this point in our understanding of these animals getting one just because ’its cool’ seems to be a disservice to these incredible creatures. Hopefully, captive bred Flamboyants will be available, but until then enjoy the video.

By Ryan Gripp
From Reefbuilders

The California Academy of Sciences which Reef Builders’ own Richard Ross works for has been getting busy in the maternity ward. A local TV station (ABC7) interviewed the different programs that have had success, those of Asian horned frogs and cuttlefish (cuttlefish starts at around 1:48). In regards to the cuttlefish breeding project Rich said “Oh, they are just the coolest animals in the world, aren’t they? They are like little humming birds in the sea who look at you.” Yes Rich, we agree.  It is interesting to point out that the work Rich is doing is the only cuttlefish breeding program in the United States, “about 350 cuttlefish have hatched so far. Both this and the frog breeding program have been so successful and the academy is now shipping babies to other aquariums and researchers around the country.” Way to go Rich!


 first appeared in Tropical Fish Hobbyist (TFH) Magazine in 2009

The dwarf cuttlefish, Sepia bandensis, is one of the coolest animals on the planet. It glides through the water like a little UFO, able to instantly change direction and speed. As it darts around the tank, it can change the color and texture of its skin going from static rock like camouflage to patterns flowing across the canvas of its skin in an instant. Sepia bandensis are phenomenal predators, patiently stalking a potential meal until their two feeding tentacles shoot forward like a chameleons tongue to snatch their prey. They will even come to the front glass of the tank to greet you when you walk into the room (although they may just recognize that you are the source of food). Best of all, they won’t try to climb out of the tank like their 8 armed octopus cousins. All in all, they are among the most fascinating animals I have ever had the opportunity to keep in aquaria.

Wild collected adult Sepia bandensis ship poorly with high mortality rates and, since they are adults, they may only have months or weeks left to live when they finally arrive at your home. However, in the last few years, alternatives to wild caught adults have presented themselves. Wild caught eggs appear on the market with regularity, and our understanding about how to raise the eggs and hatchlings has advanced greatly. Even more exciting is the success people have had captive breeding Sepia bandensis, and captive bred eggs and hatchling cuttles are offered for sale by breeders with increasing regularity. The means that not only is nothing is taken from the wild, but the availability of Sepia bandensis is no longer dependant on the seasonal availability of wild animals. This article will cover the basics of keeping and breeding these amazing creatures.

Cuttlefish basics

Sepia bandensis are cephalopods, related to octopus, squid and nautilus. Sepia bandensis have 8 arms, two feeding tentacles, three hearts, a ring shaped brain, a cuttle bone that helps control buoyancy, a fin that girds their mantle for fine maneuvering, a funnel that gives them ‘jet’ propulsion, superb 360 degree vision (though it appears they are color blind), copper based blood and the ability to squirt ink. They mate readily at around 5 months old, and lay clusters of ink covered eggs that resemble clusters of grapes. When the hatchlings are born they are tiny, less than a ¼ inch long, but can grow to an inch long within two months, and to about 4 inches within 6 months.

An awful truth

Sepia bandensis only live about one year. What makes this short lifespan even worse is how many cephalopods die; they go into what is called senescence. In senescence, the cephalopod essentially wastes away; they become listless, their eyesight and coordination start to fail causing them to have difficulty hunting or even accepting food placed directly into their arms. Sometimes their arms and body will begin to rot in place. I have seen hermit crabs feeding of still living Sepia bandensis while the cuttlefish does nothing, showing no signs that they are even aware of what is happening. In the wild, cuttlefish going through senescence don’t last long, quickly being eaten by other animals. In captivity, however, with careful feeding by the aquarist, it is possible for such a cuttlefish to linger for months while slowly declining. At some point during this process, some cephalopod keepers choose to euthanize senescent animals rather than watch them suffer. The best way to intentionally end the life of a suffering cuttle is still up for debate, but the two most often used methods include freezing the animal in a cup of tank water, or using one of the commercially life ending chemicals produced by aquarium companies.

I bring this up because it is important to be ready for this aspect of keeping a cuttlefish, and to drive home the point that captive breeding of these animals is important. If you captive breed them, it seems to somehow make the short life of the animal feel less tragic and more meaningful.

General husbandry

The basic requirements for Sepia bandensis husbandry are roughly the same as for coral – clean stable water conditions that simulate natural salt water conditions. I suggest live rock for biological filtration with ammonia and nitrite levels of zero and nitrate levels as low as possible. Specific gravity should be near 34.5ppt, temperature around 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and pH should be between 8.0 and 8.5. A skimmer is a must, not only for the oxygen it puts into the water and the waste it skims out of the tank, but they also do a great job of removing any cephalopod ink from the water before it has a chance to do any damage to the animals. With the amount of waste these predators create from unconsumed food, adding a phosphate reactor with phosphate adsorbing media may also be a good idea. Finally, if nitrates become a problem, a sulfur denitrator or remote deep sand bed for natural nitrate reduction can be added.

A single Sepia bandensis can live well in a 30 gallon aquarium, and many of the ‘all in one’ aquariums on the market right can work very well as a cuttlefish tank. For two Sepia bandensis I don’t recommend anything smaller than 40 gallons, 3 Sepia bandensis have done well in a 55, and I have kept groups of 8 in 125 gallons. Groups of Sepia bandensis can be kept together as long as they are kept fed and they have enough space. Without enough space or food, the cuttlefish will fight and possibly damage or eat each other.

Sepia bandensis has no specific lighting requirements, and will thrive under simple fluorescent lights or more powerful metal halide lighting. Similarly, Sepia bandensis will thrive under different levels of water flow, but I suggest you err on the side of more flow rather than less.

The aquascaping for a cuttlefish tank is mostly up to the personal preference of the aquarist, as the cuttlefish will thrive in a wide variety of set ups. Some caves or overhangs for the cuttles to hide are good for the animals. Growing macro algae can also provide nice hiding places for the cuttles to hang out, as well as potentially up taking excess nutrients in the water. A inch or so of sand is also a nice addition to the tank as the cuttles will sometimes bury themselves in sand, but their digging may be detrimental to deeper sand beds.

Cuttlefish can be messy eaters, dropping uneaten food all over the tank, and it is important to get that food out before it begins to rot causing deteriorating water quality. Hermit crabs and snails are safe from predation by cuttlefish and can help with uneaten food. In my opinion, bristle worms make great tank janitors for cuttlefish because they breed readily, and quickly consume dropped food.

Fish as tank mates should be avoided. If we follow up most stories of cephalopods being kept successfully with fish, we find that the success only lasts a few months before the fish eats the cephalopod or the cephalopod eats the fish. Corals on the other hand, as long as they are not stinging, make great tank mates for cuttlefish. There is at least one Sepia bandensis breeder that has had great success breeding Sepia bandensis in a full blown reef tank with bright metal halide lighting and massive flow.

Nursery for Small Cuttles

Sepia bandensis start off small and get larger quickly, which means their food needs and living space needs change as they grow. While its easy to say two Sepia bandensis can live comfortably in a 40 gallon tank, the reality of the situation is that you probably don’t want to put two hatchling cuttlefish in a 40 gallon tank because you will never see them or be able to know if they are eating. Hatchling cuttles are only ¼ of an inch long and can be completely lost in a larger tank making it impossible to even know if they are feeding.

An easy way to deal for this aspect of Sepia bandensis husbandry is to keep hatchlings in some sort of nursery, such a commercially available ‘net breeder’ used most often for live bearing fish. When setting up the net, I suggest turning it inside out so the hatchlings don’t get caught up in extra netting at the seams. Hang-on tank refugiums can also be used, or small nursery aquariums plumbed into the system – although you must take precautions to ensure the hatchlings won’t be washed out of the container by water returning to the tank, such as foam filter sponge over the outflow.

I like net breeders because they are simple, inexpensive, and incredibly easy to set up. The net breeders hang on the side of the aquarium and allow water to flow freely through the net, so no extra filtration or plumbing is needed. You can easily look through the top to keep track of the health of the cuttle and track its growth. I have successfully kept 4 hatchling Sepia bandensis in net breeders for the first 2-3 months of their lives, and once they grow to about an inch in length they can be let loose in the larger tank.


Net breeders are also great because they keep hatchling cuttlefish in close proximity to their food. For at least the first 2 of weeks after hatching, Sepia bandensis will need some sort of live food, and keeping the food closer to the hatchlings makes it more likely they will be able to find it to eat it. The more they eat, the faster they will grow, and the sooner you can release them in to their permanent home.

By far, the most successful food for hatchling Sepia bandensis is live mysis shrimp. Mysis are highly nutritious and relatively easy for the hatchlings to catch. The drawback to this food is the expense and the effort. Collecting wild mysis and captive culturing mysis are both extremely labor intensive, so they can cost more than one hundred dollars for 200. I prefer cultured mysis to wild mysis, because in my experience they have better survival rates, but plenty of other cephalopod keepers have had great success with wild mysis.

It is important to note that live brine shrimp, though readily available and inexpensive, are widely considered terrible food for cephalopods. Cephalopods raised on live brine, even enriched live brine, have low survival rates and short lives.

Keeping any live food alive can be challenging, and the challenge is compounded with mysis because they can be cannibalistic. To reduce this potential issue, avoid overcrowding, and be sure to feed rotifers or other suitable food regularly. Net breeders can be utilized, or another small tank can be set up to keep the mysis until they are ready to be fed to the cuttlefish. Its also important to get a feel for how many mysis you need per week, and be able to order them before you run out so your cuttlefish don’t go starve or eat each other!

If you are lucky enough to live near the ocean, you may be able to collect your own hatchling cuttle food in the form of small amphipods. Make sure to collect from waters that are as unpolluted as possible, and make sure to check with local regulations regarding collection before beginning. Amphipods can be much more robust than mysis and they can escape from hatchling cuttlefish more easily. I recommend that you start with mysis for the first week or so, allowing your baby cuttlefish to learn hunting skills with the easier prey.

Hatchlings should be fed several times a day, and only as much as they catch in a few minutes. I recommend avoiding ‘flood feeding’, feeding a lot of live food at once, because not only can hatchling Sepia bandensis stop seeing them as prey items, but flood feeding can make the hatchlings harder to wean onto dead food.

Since live food can be expensive, its great to wean your cuttlefish onto thawed frozen food as soon as possible – frozen mysis are a good choice for size and nutrition. Since cuttlefish rely on their eyesight to hunt, often the dead prey may need to be moving to get the cuttlefish to strike. Start by introducing thawed mysis with your live food. The hatchlings, conditioned to striking when live food is dropped into their breeder net, will usually snap up the dead mysis as well. Sometimes you will have to make the dead prey look alive by gently blowing it around, just barely moving it, with a small pipette or turkey baster. Weaning onto dead prey may not work until the hatchlings have moved off small prey and onto larger prey and determining when your hatchlings are able to move off smaller food is a judgment call.

When your cuttlefish are a month old, and have had time to hone their hunting skill on weaker, smaller food, you can try feeding them larger food…even up to foods the same size as the cuttlefish. “Shore shrimp” or “marine janitors” can be ordered on line in various different sizes, and they make a great food for cuttlefish. Just like mysis, they need to be kept alive until fed to the cuttlefish, so be prepared. Once the cuttlefish are taking larger prey, the weaning process as described above works quickly and well, just instead of using dead myisis, you need to use dead, freshly killed or thawed frozen shrimp.

Another weaning method that cephalopod enthusiasts have been experimenting with is some kind of shrimp hanger or feeding station. Glue or tie a small rock to a piece of fishing line as a sinker. Tie the other end, or secure the other end, above the tank so the sinker will be a couple of inches below the bottom of the tank. In the middle of the line, tie or glue a plastic toothpick, and skewer a dead shrimp onto the toothpick. When you place this device into the tank, the current should make the shrimp on the toothpick move around, which will help attract the cuttlefish to feed. If you have multiple cuttlefish, add more toothpicks to the line for more shrimp.

Weaned or not, as the cuttlefish get bigger you will need to get them larger food items. Again, if you live near the ocean, you can collect local crabs or shrimp as needed. You can also check with local bait shops, which may have live shrimp ready to sell. If you live away from the ocean, you can order live fiddler crabs or appropriately sized shrimp from online vendors. If you have weaned your cuttles onto thawed frozen food, any live food, bought or collected, can be obtained in bulk and frozen to use when needed. Frozen bait shrimp or prawns can also be bought or ordered, and even raw, unshelled and unflavored shrimp from the grocery store can be used.

It is important to note that freshwater feeder fish are not a suitable food source for cuttlefish. Not only do they lack fatty acids of saltwater animals, but they are often treated with copper, and copper is deadly to cephalopods. There is no real consensus among cephalopod enthusiasts regarding the suitability of using freshwater crustaceans as food for saltwater animals like ghost shrimp, so I would suggest limiting their use as cuttlefish food.


Even though cuttlefish can tell each other’s sex on sight, it is very difficult for humans to accurately sex them if they aren’t actually sees mating. In general, Sepia bandensis males tend to adopt high contrast black and white patterns when faced with another male, while females tend to keep the more relaxed mottled colors that a resting cuttlefish adopts. However, males sometimes display like females and females sometimes display like males, so to be really sure, you need to see them mating.

Cuttlefish mate by coupling head to head. In this position, the male deposits a packet of sperm, called a spermatophore, into a pouch in the female’s mantle. The mating can last from 10 seconds to many minutes, and it appears that males can use their funnel to flush other male’s sperm out the females pouch. Females can lay several clutches of eggs, up to 250 over the course of their life, and can live for months after egg laying.

Mating begins around month 5, while male displays begin around month 3. It is unclear how long it takes from mating to egg laying.

In groups, Sepia bandensis will mate readily. Males will know when a female is receptive to mating, and will start to display towards each other with the black and white patterns mentioned above, as well as stretching out their arms to intimidate their rivals. The male that wins then mates with the female. Oddly enough, sometimes when several males are displaying towards each other, another male will mate with the female while the other males are occupied with each other. It is also possible for mating to occur with no preamble – the male just swims up to the female, grabs her and mates.

After a successful mating, the female will choose a place to lay eggs. She might lay her eggs on a rock, on the side of the tank, on some macro algae, or on tubing. I have had females lay eggs directly on powerheads or on egg crate tank dividers. The eggs are laid one at a time and will forum a cluster that looks like a bunch of rubbery grapes. In Sepia bandensis, the female adds a little bit of ink to each egg giving them the reddish/black color.

Healthy eggs will start off with a silght point on the end, and slowly expand over 3-4 weeks becoming thinner and more transparent, so much so that it becomes possible to see the baby cuttlefish while it is still in the egg. As the baby matures in the egg, the yolk sack, attached at the front of the cuttle where the arms are/will be, shrinks and finally disappears. The cuttle will even start to swim inside of the egg, just prior to hatching.

Fertility of eggs can range from high to low. I have had entire clusters that have frustratingly failed to develop. It is also possible for hatchlings to emerge from the egg with a yolk sack still attached. This is probably caused by some stressor, and these premature hatchlings rarely, if ever, survive longer than a week.

Assuming you have healthy eggs, I suggest leaving them in place until you start to see the yolk sac disappear. I like to use a small pair of scissors to snip the material that holds the eggs to where they have been laid, taking care to cut as far away from the egg as possible. Be gentle; the eggs can be quite fragile, and it is easy to accidentally puncture or break the egg. Usually, the cluster is held in place only at one or two points so removal is not that difficult. Once the cluster is free, use a cup with tank water, not a net, to move the eggs to their nursery area or net breeder and then leave them alone until they hatch.

It is common for hatchlings not eat for the first few days after hatching, so after a few days you can start to offer them their first live foods and be well on your way to continuing your population of Sepia bandensis.

When you’ve successfully bred your Sepia bandensis, it’s time to trade brood stock with other successful breeders. By doing this conscientiously, we can avoid inbreeding and the potential fecundity drop off that often accompanies the captive breeding of cephalopods.


I have found keeping and breeding Sepia bandensis to be fulfilling and rewarding, and I look forward to more and more people having success with these amazing little creatures.


Books – Cephalopods: Octopuses and Cuttlefish for the Home Aquarium

Online Cephalopod Information:


Live cuttlefish foods:


From TONMO and Advanced Aquarist

Originally published in AdavancedAquarist.com, http://www.advancedaquarist.com/2005/9/aafeature, republished here with permission from the author.

Why Cuttlesfish?
I may be biased. Ok, I am completely biased. I think cuttlefish may very well be the coolest animals on the planet. They maneuver around their tank like hummingbirds, vertically, horizontally, their fin appearing blurred like bird wings. (Image 1) As they fly about they flash amazing color changes, creating patterns that pulse and shift and shimmer on the canvas of their skin. They are master predators, stalking their prey with cunning and attacking with accuracy, speed and skill. Over time, they learn to recognize and respond to you, and will often greet you when you walk into the room (or maybe they just know you bring the food). They are smart, beautiful and unusual, and unlike certain other eight-armed Cephalopods, they don’t try to escape from your aquarium.

My History
My infatuation with cuttlefish started when I was a kid. To me, they just looked like extraterrestrials, and they seemed so smart that I wanted to know more about them. I read about them, made expeditions to public aquariums to see them, and watched any program on cephalopods, hoping to catch a glimpse of these fascinating creatures. Through it all, I hoped for a cuttlefish of my own, but none ever seemed to reach the market. I kept seeing shows on research being done on cuttlefish, but no research station breeding them is able sell them to individuals (please don’t bother them by asking!).

Twenty years later, after I had become proficient at reefkeeping, I started noticing cuttlefish appearing at local fish stores about once a year. However, they always seemed unhealthy and I was reluctant to try my hand with less-than-robust animals. Finally, in 2003 (I waited a long time!) two cuttles came into a LFS that I am friendly with. When both cuttles eagerly ate, I decided to take a chance. Two years later, I converted an entire room in my house to cuttle fish breeding and husbandry. For more information on my set up, and cuttlefish video (I am quite proud of the videos) please check outwww.DaisyHillCuttleFarm.com.

Keeping cephalopods, and especially cuttlefish, in home aquariums is still in its infancy, so I thought I would write an article with all the information I would have wanted when I started keeping them. This is not to say that there isn’t info out there – The Octopus News Magazine Online (www.TONMO.com), which recently held its first cephalopod convention in Monterey Ca, and The Cephalopod Page, currently celebrating its 10 year anniversary (www.thecephalopodpage.org), both have much good information and I use them often; this article is intended to supplement those resources. My hope is that one day, cultured cuttlefish will be commonplace in the aquarium hobby, and I hope that this article will entice people to not only keep them as pets, but will inspire people to breed them as well.

Most of the information available on cuttlefish concerns itself with Sepia officinalis, mainly because they have been raised and used widely for research in the scientific research community. Another reason there is hobby-side information on S. officinalis is because they have been relatively easy for European hobbyists to obtain.

I believe that S. bandensis, provided captive bred/raised animals are available, are well suited to life in the home aquarium. It is important to note that I am not a cuttlefish ‘guru’ and that I expect that some of my ideas regarding cuttlefish husbandry will change as more people start keeping these animals successfully. There is much we don’t know, and it is my hope that my experience and ideas will inspire more people to work with these amazing animals, that our knowledge of their husbandry needs grows rapidly, and that captive raised S. bandensis become commonplace in the near future.There is sporadic importation of other species of cuttlefish into the USA, the most common of these imports is Sepia bandensis. There isn’t much information on keeping S. bandensis because they have not been studied very much in the scientific arena, and they have rarely survived for very long in the home aquarium.

Nuts and bolts
Definitions: Just what the origin of the word ‘cuttlefish’ is has not been pinned down, but according to cephalopod researcher John W Forsythe, “The name Cuttlefish originally came about as the best guess of how to spell or pronounce the Dutch or perhaps Norwegian name for these beasts. It is derived from something like ‘codele-fische’ or ‘kodle-fische’. In German today, cuttlefish and squids are called tintenfische, meaning ‘ink-fish’. I’ve been told that the term fische actually refers to any creature that lives in the sea or are caught in nets when fishing, not just fishes. Anyway, that’s what I understand the derivation of name to be.”1

The cuttlefish isn’t a fish at all – it is a cephalopod. Cephalopod researcher Dr. James Wood sums it up well; “Octopuses, squids, cuttlefish and the chambered nautilus belong to class Cephalopoda, which means ‘head foot’. Cephalopods are a class in the phylum Mollusca which also contains bivalves (scallops, oysters, clams), gastropods (snails, slugs, nudibranchs), scaphopods (tusk shells) and polyplacophorans (chitons)”2, however unlike their relatives, cephalopod move much faster, actively hunt their food, and seem to be quite intelligent.


Image 2: Video frame of an adult S. bandensis catching prey with its tentacles. Photo, Richard Ross

Physiology: A cuttlefish has 8 arms, with two rows of suckers along each arm, and two feeding tentacles with at least two rows of suckers along each. The tentacles are tipped with a tentecular club, each covered with suckers while the ‘shaft’ of the tentacle is smooth. The tentacles and tentecular club act much the same as a chameleon’s tongue; they shoot out to snare prey and bring it back to be eaten by a beak-like mouth and a wire brush like tongue called a radula.(Image 2) Cephalopods have three hearts, a ring shaped brain, blue, copper based blood, and have a lifespan between 6 months and 3 years.

Cuttlefish have amazing eyesight having ‘w’ shaped pupils which, according to cephalopod specialist Mark Norman “when closed, forms two separate pupil openings.”3

Image 3: 2 week oldS. bandensis, about ¼ inch long. Note the detail of the skin structure. Photo, Richard Ross

Image 4: Adult S. bandensis mimicking the cyano covered tubing which it is hiding under. Photo, Richard Ross


Image 5: Juvenile S. bandensis imitating macro algae. Photo, Richard Ross

They are also known for the amazing chromatophores, leucophores and iridophores that change the color of their skin. (Image 3 and 4) At any time, half of their body may be one pattern, while the other is completely different pattern. The patterns aren’t necessarily static either, they move, like animation on a TV screen; one pattern is referred to as ‘passing clouds’ because it seems to mimic the shadows of clouds passing overhead – although the pattern is also thought to mesmerize prey (see videos at www.DaisyHillCuttleFarm). These animations are thought to aid in communication, hunting and camouflage. To evade predators or hide from prey, they not only rely on their color-changing abilities but will also shape skin on their bodies into textured protrusions (Image 5), expel ink from their bodies, and ‘jet’ rapidly away from danger.

For locomotion cuttlefish generally use a two-tiered approach: a fin that girds their mantle, as well as the jet propulsion of water pumped over the gills and through their funnel. This ‘jetting’ is often used when the animal is seriously threatened, and can move the cuttlefish surprisingly quickly. Some cuttlefish, like S. bandensis and Metasepia pfefferi (flamboyant cuttlefish), actually walk across the sand using their bottom two arms and two lobes on the back part of the bottom of the mantle.

One of the most well known features of the cuttle fish is the cuttle bone, which is used by pet owners to provide calcium for caged birds. This lighter-than-balsa-wood, gas filled, multi-chambered internal calcified ‘shell’ gives the cuttlefish its buoyancy control.

Cuttlefish can also produce copious amounts of ink if startled. It is thought that the ink acts as a smokescreen to allow the cuttlefish to escape predation. Some cuttlefish ink forms ‘pseudomorphs’, or blobs of ink that are thought to further aid in escape from predation by presenting the predator with multiple targets. The question of the toxicity of cuttlefish ink is still up in the air, although it is clear that some cephalopod ink is indeed toxic, but again, the major reason the ink is thought to be toxic is because it coats their gills, causing them to suffocate. This ink has been used by humans as, well, ink; the genus shares its name with ink – Sepia. The cuttlefish ink is also used as an ingredient in many ‘snake oil’ medicines that claim to cure everything from insomnia to menopause. Cuttlefish are also quite tasty, and prepared in every way possible, from raw to deep fried snack foods.

Hard to Keep?
Cuttlefish have traditionally been thought of as a difficult animal to keep. I don’t think that is necessarily true – IF you can keep a reef tank (and understand the basics of cuttlefish care). If you have never kept a reef tank, I would strongly suggest keeping one before you start on cuttlefish – even if not all husbandry methods are transferable. Since the basics of keeping both coral and cuttlefish are similar, and since cultured corals are becoming so readily available, coral seems like a better creature to “learn on” than cuttlefish.

In my opinion, much of the reputation of being difficult to keep comes from cuttles being mistreated during collection and shipping: often housed together, the resultant fighting can cause injuries and infections, while stressed animals can ink in shipping bags causing them to suffocate.

If you can get your hands on a cuttle in good shape, I have found them to be pretty resilient and adaptable. Two cuttles I recently got from a local wholesaler were in good shape and were eating thawed frozen krill the second day I had them, and exhibiting ‘begging’ behavior on the third!

However, please remember that cuttlefish are short-lived animals (which has also bolstered the thought that they are difficult animals to keep), so get prepared for your little alien friend that greets you every time you walk into the room to be with you for l3 months or less. According to James Wood, “lifespan in cephalopods seems to be a function of two things, the water temperature that they live at and the size they mature at. Species that mature at a small size and live in warm water have the shortest lifespan.”4

There are many ways for a cuttlefish to die. An injury from fighting can become infected or the injury itself can be terminal. Sometimes, a cuttlefish will be eating well and active one day, only to be floating lifeless the next morning. If you are able to keep a cuttlefish to the end of its natural lifespan, you may get to experience the animal going through senescence, which really means the process of getting old, but in cephalopods the process is downright gut wrenching. The onset of senescence is often marked by a clouding of the eyes. Since eyesight it central to a cuttlefish’s hunting ability, such clouding can be disastrous. The ability to track and catch prey is impeded, with the animal’s tentacles seeming to not function properly and an inability of the tentecular club to hold onto prey. Eventually, the animal can become lethargic, showing no interest at all in eating or even moving. To make it even more painful, senescence can last for days or months.

The death of your cuttlefish is awful and it is going to happen; be prepared.

Available species
There are essentially two species of cuttlefish that are ‘available’ to the aquarium trade – Sepia officinalis and Sepia bandensis.

Much has been written about S. officinalis because they are bred all over the world for different kinds of research – from neuron research to behavioral research. While S. officinalis are pretty simple to get a hold of if you are a researcher, or live in Europe, they are quite difficult to get in the US. What’s even worse from a practical point of view, is they get big – 18 inches. It is recommended that the smallest aquarium for a single animal be at least 200 gallons. They are from ‘cool’ waters and like a water temp between 59 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

I believe that Sepia bandensis, on the other hand, are the perfect animal for the home aquarium because they are small: about 4 inches. Since S. bandensis is the species with which I have the most experience, they are the focus of this article. However, if you are interested in Sepia officinalis, please read this article by Colin Dunlop (http://www.tonmo.com/cephcare/cuttlefishcare.php), or this article by Dr. James Wood (http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/cuttle1.html).

There are many Sepia species that are similar to each other, and many may not have been identified yet, so proper identification can be very difficult. For instance, it is possible that the first cuttles I got were not S. bandensis, but I only came to this conclusion after raising bunches of cuttles that I am more sure are S. bandensis through observations.

Other species sometimes seen in the hobby are pharaoh cuttlefish, Sepia pharaonis, which are even less available than S. officinalis. I once had the honor of keeping a flamboyant cuttlefish, Metasepia pfefferi – but not enough is known about them to make me feel comfortable recommending them as pets, and there seem to be indications that their populations in the wild are in decline.

Getting a cuttlefish
Getting a cuttlefish, especially in the US, is currently difficult. There are no cuttles native to North America, so unlike our friends in the rest of the world, you can’t just go and collect your own; you have to hope that your LFS will get one in stock. Still, there is hope.

There are other people, just as into cuttlefish as I am, working on breeding Sepia bandensis in the US and the UK. Last year Octopets.com offered captive raised Sepia officinalis for sale – and plan to again this year. Octopets.com is the only facility culturing octopus for the hobby in the US, and they also sell a variety of other marine animals. Recently, I have been working with Octopets.com to help them establish S. bandensis brood stock on a larger scale than what I am working with.

I am a huge fan of captive propagation in general, and think the benefits of captive-bred or captive-raised cuttlefish are massive – the animals are already acclimated to captive conditions, already eating available foods, and don’t go through the stress of being collected or shipped from another continent; not to mention reducing the demands on wild populations.

Another option is to raise your animals from eggs; cuttlefish eggs, usually S. bandensis, show up in the hobby from time to time. They are usually added to orders as ‘filler’ and one wholesaler told me they feed them to fish at his facility! Raising baby cuttles from eggs has its own host of problems and benefits that will be addressed later in this article.

Setting Up for S. bandensis 
S. bandensis don’t get very big, 4 inches or less, and a single animal can easily be kept in smallish aquaria. They seem to be very reluctant to ink, they tend to become very personable very quickly and, unlike octopus, they don’t try to escape from their aquarium. Whenever I walk into my cuttle room, they all swim to the front of their tanks to see if I will feed them. They really seem to be the perfect cephalopod for the home aquarium.

Below is a breakdown of what is needed to keep a single S. bandensis in a sumpless system. I am not going to go into very much detail because I am hoping that anyone who wants to keep a cuttlefish already has some basic experience in keeping saltwater tanks and understands the nitrogen cycle. If you don’t, but are still interested in keeping a cuttlefish, I suggest you check out Reef.org’s New Reefers Forum (http://reefs.org/phpBB2/viewforum.php?f=64).

    • S. bandensis can be kept in tanks as small as a 20 gallon high, although a 30 gallon high is better for a single animal. They prefer to have a tall tank, and seem to like the feel of the height of the water above them. They can, of course, be kept in bigger tanks, but the bigger the tank the harder it might be to make sure a small cuttlefish sees its food.
    • Any water pump, powerhead or filter intake should be covered with a filter sponge, or something similar, to keep the cuttlefish from being sucked into the filter or sucked against the intake.
    • A protein skimmer is a must, not only for oxygenation and water cleanliness issues, but also to deal with ink events. A hang on back skimmer will work just fine – I like the Bak Pak with a wooden air stone added to the reaction chamber to produce more foam. I have also used the Remora Pro, but never really got much skimmate out of it, but some people swear by them. Any decent skimmer will do.
    • A hang-on back – Preferably with a surface skimmer attachment to suck ‘scum’ off the top of the water. The mechanical filtration provided is helpful because cuttlefish are messy eaters and messy excreters. A HOB filter is also a good place to run carbon to help deal with inking events or other water quality issues. Make sure you change or rinse the filter media often. The HOB filter will also give you plenty of circulation for S. bandensis – provided you get the right sized filter for the right sized tank. I use Aquaclear 500’s on 20 gallon high tanks. A canister filter will also work just as well.
    • Extra water flow – If you need extra water flow, a power head will work just fine (but cover the intake with a filter sponge!). Air pumps are also very efficient at moving water, and make especially good water movement for baby cuttlefish.
    • Heater – S. bandensis come from at least the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and seem to do just fine between 78 and 80 degrees.
    • Chiller (if you need it). In the SF Bay area I have never needed one, but if I did need one I would use an IceProbe Micro Chiller DIY’d onto a hang on back filter. I doubt you would need one for this species. For S. officinalis you very well might want one.
    • Water quality – Specific gravity should be around 1.025, pH 8.1-8.4, Ammonia, nitrite and nitrate as close to 0 as possible.
    • Make sure that the tank has completely finished its nitrogen cycle and is ready for a high biological load before adding a cuttlefish.
    • Lighting is not much of an issue as cuttles don’t really need it. I use Lights of America fixturesfrom Home Depot or Costco to keep the macro algae growing. Some people have reported cuttles going blind from high intensity lighting, but I am not sure if I believe it. Cuttlefish eyesight tends to go as they reach senescence – the eyes cloud over and they find it hard to see their prey, and these are the symptoms that people have reported keeping cuttles under high intensity lighting. It is hard to tell if the timing of the eye problems is coincidence or caused by the lighting. Your lighting will also determine what corals, if any, you keep with the cuttle.
    • Aquascaping – I like to create big arches so the cuttles have places to hide, but are still easy to find. I suggest going light on the live rock to make it easier to find the cuttlefish – remember they are masters of camouflage.
    • A sand bed of 1/2 inch depth is fine. The cuttles will dig around in the sand, so a deep sand bed might be problematic.
    • S. bandensis are often found among sea fans, but seem to do very well with hanging macro algae. You can hang your macros with a lettuce clip used to feed tangs and angels vegetable matter.
    • Top off – over time the water in your tank will evaporate, and will need to be replaced. Note that the salt does NOT evaporate, so your top off water should be reverse osmosis water or reverse osmosis/deionized water heated to the temperature of the tank. How often you will need to top off your tank will depend on the rate of evaporation you experience.
    • No copper! Copper will kill cuttlefish.
  • Water changes – I recommend a 25 -50 percent water change once a month. The water should be reverse osmosis water or reverse osmosis/deionized water mixed with a good quality salt mix, heated and aerated to tank temperature for 24 hours before adding it to the tank.

Of course, a system with a sump would be fine as well. A sump is essentially another tank below the show tank, often kept inside the tank stand. Water drains from the show tank into the sump, and is then pumped back up into the show tank. Sumps do basically two things – they give your system a larger water volume which makes the system more stable and they give you a place to put equipment that may be unsightly, like your skimmer, heater or chiller. A 50 or 100 micron sock can also be added to the end of the tank drain for extra water filtration, but make sure to clean it at least once a week, if not more, so the detritus collecting in the sock don’t break down and cause water quality issues.

Keeping groups of S. bandensis: I have not experimented much with keeping groups of S. bandensis together. I have had so few animals, and I didn’t want to risk losing them to possible injuries from fighting. It may very well be the case that keeping groups, especially groups raised together, of S. bandensis in the same aquarium turns out to be a great way to keep them. It may also turn out that the fear of fighting is overrated. I think that as long as they are given a large enough tank that they should be fine, but I have no ideas as to what constitutes ‘large enough’. When the current babies I have are old enough, I plan on keeping a group of them in an undivided 100 gallon tank, so I should have more information in the near future.

Tank Mates for S. bandensis: Most fish, shrimp and crabs that are smaller than the cuttle will eventually become food…they will even eat mantis shrimp. Larger animals may distress the cuttle. In short, I would NOT recommend having fish and cuttles in the same tank. Snails, however, are completely safe in my experience.

Any kind of non-aggressive coral should be fine with cuttlefish. Anything that tends to sting should be avoided. Mushrooms, colt corals, ‘tree’ corals, clove polyps and green star polyps are all good choices for a cuttle tank. SPS corals may not be good choices for lighting reasons and water quality issues.

Feeding S. bandensis
Cuttlefish are predators eating mostly crustaceans and fish. It seems that motion triggers their amazing hunting response, so lots of people want to feed them live foods. This can be problematic because live food can be expensive, and even though cuttles will eat fish, they really are crustacean eaters. The most widely available live crustation for food is the ghost shrimp, which is good for a snack, but may not be the best everyday food.

There are several options to feeding your cuttlefish. Variety is always a good idea, as it covers more nutritional bases and keep the cuttle mind more active.

Image 6: Adult S. bandensis eating a locally caught crab. Photo, Richard Ross

  • Live saltwater crabs/shrimp collected locally. This is a great, inexpensive food source if collected from a clean area. I live near the SF Bay, and crabs are easy to collect, but I am now worried about the pollution levels being problematic for the cuttlefish, so I don’t use them as my primary food source. Also, remember not to feed crabs or shrimp that are bigger than the cuttle just because it is cool to watch the fight – prey has defensives and will often injure the predator. (Image 6)
  • Live saltwater fish collected locally: See above – but remember that Crustaceans make up the bulk of cuttle diets in the wild, so a fish-only diet is not best. If you are interested in seeing what different species of cuttlefish eat in the wild, please see Cephalopod Prey in the Wild (http://www.cephbase.dal.ca/preydb/preydb.cfm). Even though there is not a lot on S. bandensis, the information may be informative.
  • Live saltwater crabs/shrimp or fish for a live bait shop: Great if you can find ’em, as long as they are collected from a clean area.

    Image 7: Adult S. bandensis eating a sickly Cardinal fish. Photo, Richard Ross




  • Live saltwater fish from an LFS: Not the best option because this usually means damsels, which can be pretty aggressive and can even injure the cuttlefish – not to mention expensive. (Image 7)
  • Live saltwater shrimp/crabs from the LFS: Great if you can afford them. They will almost always be expensive, but can be a good option in an emergency. Hermit crabs, like clean up crew hermits, aren’t the best idea because they are so small and can disappear into their shells – and the cuttlefish may ignore them completely.
  • Live freshwater crabs/shrimp: It is questionable if freshwater animals make good food source for saltwater animals – there may be missing nutrients or may have incompatible amino acids. Otherwise, ghost shrimp are eaten with gusto by cuttlefish, as are small fiddler crabs or very small crawfish. The big drawback is if the cuttle doesn’t eat the animal, you now have a freshwater animal in a saltwater tank . . . which may die and pollute the water.
  • Live freshwater fish: Guppies seem to be ok, but goldfish seem to cause indefinable problems. The big worry is that these animals are treated with copper or other chemicals that can be detrimental/disastrous to the health of the cuttlefish.
  • Frozen Krill, fish, or other (but not cooked!): As a general staple, frozen krill from the LFS or fresh frozen, rinsed shrimp/non oily fish from your local grocery store are great. Make sure you thaw the food completely, and it is a good idea to supplement once in a while with live food. Please note that weaning your cuttles onto frozen food can be a challenge. The trick is to make the dead food look alive via a clear feeding stick or by having it ‘blow’ around in the current. Two wild-caught cuttles I currently have took to frozen food almost immediately with almost no work on my part, while other cuttles I have had would never even look at it.
  • Ordering live food from the internet: Great but expensive due to overnight shipping costs, and you will need to set up a separate tank to keep them alive. Check out TONMO.com and ShrimpStuff.com.I suggest feeding cuttlefish at least once a day, and promptly remove any uneaten food from the aquarium. They will eat a lot more than once a day, but it does seem like it is possible to over feed them. Their metabolism is very fast, so I wouldn’t suggest not feeding them for more than a couple of days in a row. Cuttlefish floating near the surface may be a sign of starvation, so be on the lookout for this behavior.

Rearing S. Bandensis eggs


Image 8: Baby S. bandensis inside the egg. Photo, Mike Irving


Image 9: Baby S. bandensis inside the egg. Photo, Richard Ross

S. Bandensis eggs look like a cluster of 8-40 grapes, are dark purple to black in color (the outside of the egg is partially made of ink) and generally stay attached to each other even after they are removed from whatever they were attached to by the female cuttlefish. The eggs are pointy when laid, but as they mature, they swell, become round and eventually grow so transparent that you can watch the baby swim around inside. After 2-3 weeks, the baby cuttlefish emerge from the eggs ready to meet the world. Sometimes a yolk sack is still attached, however this is generally considered to be an effect of a premature hatching. Though tiny, they are perfect replicas of their parents and begin color changing almost immediately (and even while still in the egg!) (Image 8 and 9)


Image 10: Baby S. bandensis. Marks at the bottom of the frame are 1/8 inch apart. Photo, Richard Ross


Image 11: Video frame of 2 male S. bandensis intimidating each other with visual displays. Photo, Richard Ross

The cuttlefish are born as small as 4 mm (Image 10), but grow quickly, up to 1 cm in one month! I keep newly hatched S. Bandensis in net breeders so I can keep track of them and make sure they are all eating (I turn the net of the net breeder inside out so the extra material is on the outside of the net breeder so the babies don’t get caught in it). If the babies are kept in the main tank, they can easily get lost or sucked into a filter. I am also experimenting with keeping baby cuttlefish in display ‘cubes’ like you see in aquarium stores. I often keep up to 5 individuals in the same net breeder for several months, or until I begin to see fighting displays (Image 11). Then, I move them into sectioned off areas of the 100 gallon tank. I have tried keeping groups together for mating and tried keeping individual animals apart except for mating, and have had equal results in both cases, but will use a larger space for groups in the future.

Image 12: A ‘net breeder’ used to house and protect baby S. bandensis. Photo, Richard Ross


Image 13: Baby S. bandensis inside a ‘net breeder’. Photo, Richard Ross

If you have a cuttlefish that lays eggs, leave them where they are until they start to inflate. Then you can carefully remove them from whatever they have been laid on by removing the ‘stalk’ of the bunch of grapes from its point of attachment and move the eggs to a net breeder or other hatching container (avoid moving them close to hatching, because it can be stressful) (Image 12 and 13). It would be even safer for the eggs if you were able to move them by moving whatever it is that they are attached to, or you could suspend the eggs in the middle of the water column via monofilament or bent rigid airline tubing. Keep a gentle water flow over the eggs and remove any eggs that fail to mature. Make sure to cover any filter/pump intake with a filter sponge, or simply use an airpump for water motion.

Eggs come with their own set of pros and cons. The pros are big – the eggs ship well and take up little space, and allow you to know the exact age of your cuttles. However, the major con is massive – feeding the babies. Baby S. bandensis may not eat for 2 or 3 days after hatching, but once they get started, they eat an amazing amount of food, and the food has to be the right size. Live mysid shrimp make the perfect food, but you need lots of them, and to make matters worse, mysids are cannibalistic so you have to keep them in a large enough container and feed them enough so they won’t eat each other.

If you are lucky enough to be able to collect your own, or live near some place that cultures them and will sell them to you, or decide to (shudder) culture your own, you win. Otherwise you will need to have them shipped to you overnight and incur those expenses. When I shipped in live food, I was very happy with www.mysidshrimp.com, a division of Reed Mariculture.

Image 14: Three week old baby S. bandensis and Gammarus spp amphipod. Marks at the bottom of the frame are 1/8 inch apart. Photo, Richard Ross


Image 15: Baby S. bandensis eating an amphipod. Photo, Richard Ross

If you live near the coast, you can also collect amphipods (Gammarus spp) for baby cuttlefish food, which is actually pretty easy. I prefer to go to a gravelly area that gets exposed at low tide, find a rock about the size of a dinner plate, flip it over and scoop the revealed gravel into a bucket with some tank water. When I get home, I drop a net in the bucket. The pods tend to cling to it and voila… easy baby feeding. (Image 14 and 15)

UK S. bandensis keeper Mike Irving collects mysid shrimp for his baby cuttlefish: “In coastal areas you may find that you have mysids living. Usually they are more abundant in tidal areas, or where fresh water run-off meets salt water. Mysids live at the sand surface, so in order to collect them, you should take a fine net (sized so that is will let silt through but not the mysids) and run it along the surface of the sand/sediment. As you net disturbs the mysids and sweeps through the water, you will catch the mysids.

A word of warning – when you collect mysids yourself, first make sure that the water is unpolluted (however the presence of them can sometimes indicate so, and that you do not collect too many. When transporting them from coast to home, if you over collect for your transportation receptacle (bucket!) they mysids use up oxygen fast, and you can end up with a bunch of dead shrimp. Collect light and aerate with a tube if you can – even better buy a battery operated air pump.”

Baby fish can also be an option (octopets.com sells baby saltwater guppies). Some people will use enriched small brine shrimp but only in a pinch – it is thought that long term, brine are not an adequate cuttlefish food.

Another thing to try is to wean them onto frozen mysids. Put cuttlefish in a small tank, cube or net breeder with enough circulation to keep the thawed mysids moving and after a few days the babies should start eating them.

Warning: It is not known how well S. bandensis can do with a diet of only saltwater guppies, enriched brine shrimp, or frozen mysids. A varied diet of other live foods seems to give the best chance of survival.

Breeding S. bandensis
I have had limited success breeding S. bandensis – mainly through trying to keep breeding groups or pairs in hobby sized tanks. I get lots of mating, but have lost the parents before egg laying for reasons I believe may include fighting due to limited space, separated cuttles injuring themselves trying to get to each other through dividers, or slow poisoning via live foods collected from the SF bay.


Image 16: Two young adult S. bandensis mating. Photo, Richard Ross

Cuttlefish breed by coupling head to head, and the male packet of sperm called a spermatophore, is deposited into a pouch in the female’s mantle (Image 16) The mating can last from 10 seconds to many minutes, and in some species, males will use their funnel to flush other male’s sperm out the females pouch.6 Females can lay several clutches of eggs, and can live for months after egg laying.

Even though cuttlefish can tell each others sex on sight, it is very difficult for humans to accurately sex them if you don’t actually see them breeding. In general, S. bandensis males tend to adopt high contrast black and white patterns when faced with another male while females tend to keep the more relaxed mottled colors that a resting cuttlefish adopts. However, males sometimes display like females and females sometimes display like males, so introducing S. bandensis that don’t know each other should be done with care.

Image 17: Divided 100 gallon tank used for breeding and sexing S. bandensis. Photo, Richard Ross

The method of introduction and sexing that I am using developed with much help from Chris Maupin. So far, while not perfect, it seems to be effective. I built movable partitions in a 100 gallon tank, each with a removable door that can be either be transparent or opaque.(Image 17) To try to sex the cuttles, I put in the transparent door to see how they react to each other. Hopefully, those reactions will allow me to determine the sex of the animals. James Wood suggests holding a mirror up to the tank, but I haven’t tried this method of sexing yet.


Image 18: Close up of the face of an adult S. bandensis eating a crab. Photo, Richard Ross

When I think I have a male and a female, I remove the door and watch as the two cuttles face off. Males and females will mate pretty much immediately, while two males will display and fight (Image 11). After breeding, I separate the two to prevent fighting. If the pair ends up being two males, I separate them as quickly as possible.

The first pair I successfully bred produced one clutch of eggs using this method. The next cuttles I raised were all male. The third attempt seemed successful, and the pair mated like crazy, when disaster struck. The two lovesick cuttles were so eager to get some “unsupervised” time together, that they attempted to mate through the mesh of the tank dividers. Both animals were injured, and died shortly thereafter.

I have also kept groups of cuttles together to see if they would pair off or mate without intervention, but have had little success, mostly due to apparent fighting. It is probable that the space I gave these groups was simply too small.

When the babies I currently have are old enough, I will modify my procedure. The modifications I’m considering are: using different dividers, leaving an empty space between divided cuttles to prevent them trying to reach each other, and using a much larger tank/tub as an environment for small group to live in. I suspect that S. bandensis would be easy to breed with a group of 10 or so as long as they were in a 300 gallon tub with plenty of macro algae for hiding.

Image 19: Rear view of 3 week old S. bandensis eating an amphipod. Marks at the bottom of the frame are 1/8 inch apart. Photo, Richard Ross

Cuttlefish are fantastic animals, and I am still amazed that I have them in my home. I hope that as more people begin to keep and breed them that they will become a captive bred staple in the aquarium hobby. I also hope that you have found this article helpful, and that your interest in keeping and breeding cuttlefish has grown. If you have any information on keeping or breedingSepia bandensis, or if you have found any errors in this article, please contact me because to make captive bred bandensis readily available we need to pool our information.

My efforts with Sepia bandensis would not have been possible without the generous help of Bob Mendelsohn, Chris Maupin, Colin Dunlop, Mike Irving, Dr, James Wood, both the RDO and TONMO.com online communities and the information compiled by Dr. James Wood on The Cephalapod Page and Cephbase. I also need to thank my wife Libby for allowing the absurdity of attempting to breed cuttlefish in a house and for her immeasurable help in writing this article.



The Cephalopod Page – http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/cuttle1.html

The Octopus News Magazine Online – www.TONMO.com

CephBase – http://www.cephbase.utmb.edu/

Mike Irvings www.CephsUK.co.uk



General) Norman, Mark (2000), ‘Cephalopods a world guide’, ConchBooks PP 1-92

1) http://www.cephbase.utmb.edu/TCP/faq/TCPfaq2b.cfm?ID=4

2) http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/cuttle1.html

3) Norman, Mark (2000), ‘Cephalopods a world guide’. ConchBooks : pp.82

4) Private correspondence referring to the following paper: Wood J.B. and R.K. O’Dor (2000). Do larger cephalopods live longer? Effects of temperature and phylogeny on interspecific comparisons of age and size at maturity. Marine Biology. 136 (1) : pp.91

5)Lights of America Fixtures – http://www.lightsofamerica.com/Product%20Categories/Security%20Fixtures.aspx

6)Norman, Mark (2000), ‘Cephalopods a world guide’. ConchBooks : pp.42


Image 20: 3 week old baby S. bandensis. Marks at the bottom of the frame are 1/8 inch apart. Photo, Richard Ross