The flamboyant cuttlefish is dazzling, but is it venomous?

Two researchers are looking into the toxicity of this tiny, army-crawling cephalopod.

Vocabulary: cuttlefish, cephalopod, appendage, buoyancy, predator, camouflage, venomous

Next Generation Science Standards: LS4.C: Adaptation, LS1.A: Structure and Function, LS1.D: Information Processing, CC6: Structure and Function, SEP1: Asking Questions and Defining Problems

Common Core State Standards: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.6–8.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9–10.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11–12.4

The flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfeffer) is one of the species featured in the “Tentacles” exhibition at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. © Monterey Bay Aquarium

Have you ever seen a cuttlefish walk?

If you stop by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Tentacles” exhibit, you might. The aquarium is one of a handful in the country to display flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi), a diminutive species of cephalopod that often forgoes swimming to crawl, army-style, along the seafloor (or the bottom of a tank).

​ via @GIPHY
​ via @GIPHY

Internet chatter suggests that the flamboyant cuttlefish — known for ambling along the seafloor and flashing brilliant displays — is toxic. What does the science say?

Read the full article here or download a printable version here.


  • Cuttlebones in most cuttlefish allow them to maintain a fixed position in the water, with variable buoyancy, while expending very little energy. Explain why the flamboyant cuttlefish “army-crawl” might be related to their cuttlebone structure.
  • What led to the myth that flamboyant cuttlefish are venomous? What are some examples of organisms that seem venomous, but are actually harmless?
  • The researchers in the article have not yet found a reliable pattern to toxin distribution in the flamboyant cuttlefish, it appears in different organs/organ systems in different cuttlefish. At this point, scientists are puzzled about it presence. If they cannot kill predators with their toxin, why do you think flamboyant cuttlefish have venom?
  • Why did Christine Bedore test whether predators readily ate the flamboyant cuttlefish? What question was she trying to answer with that feeding study?
  • Take a minute to look at the pictures and videos of the flamboyant cuttlefish in this resource. After observing the flamboyant cuttlefish, what is one question you have about them?

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Illustration by Eric Nyquist