Female receptivity, mating history, and familiarity influence the mating behavior of cuttlefish

Alexandra K. Schnell*, Carolynn L. Smith, Roger T. Hanlon, Robert T. Harcourt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Animals attempt to maximize their reproductive fitness by employing discrimination tactics that increase their fertilization success. Semelparous species are faced with high energy and time constraints. These constraints are predicted to affect the extent of discrimination tactics that may be employed. The semelparous giant Australian cuttlefish, Sepia apama, seekmultiplemates during their single breeding season, yet the discrimination tactics used to assess mates remain ambiguous. We combined field observations and laboratory-controlled mating experiments to determine (i) the relationship between the female signal (i.e., white lateral stripe) and mating outcome and (ii) the effects of the white lateral stripe, receptive postures, mating history, and familiarity on mating behavior. Females were less likely to mate when they expressed the white lateral stripe, suggesting that this signal conveys non-receptivity. Female mating history appeared to predict their likelihood of mating because females that had not recently mated were more likely to perform receptive postures and less likely to express the white lateral stripe. Familiarity with the males did not affect female expression of the white lateral stripe nor receptive postures. In males, mating behavior was not affected by the females’ expression of the white lateral stripe nor female receptive postures; however, familiarity with the female did affect male mating behavior. Males exerted a strong preference for unfamiliar females, providing evidence for familiarity discrimination. This research suggests that distinct selection pressures may be driving different discrimination capabilities in the sexes and provides the first empirical evidence of familiarity discrimination in a cephalopod species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)283-292
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015


  • Familiarity discrimination
  • Coolidge effect
  • Mate choice
  • Semelparous
  • Visual signaling
  • Sepia apama


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