Metasepia pfefferi

Geographic Range

Pfeffer's flamboyant cuttlefish, Metasepia pfefferi, is found in Tropical Indo-Pacific oceans, especially along the coast of northern Australia, western Australia, and across to the southern edge of New Guinea. (Reid, 2005)


Metasepia pfefferi is typically a bottom-dweller living from depths of 3 to 86 m. It prefers living among sandy and muddy substrates in tropical waters. (Reid, 2005)

  • Range depth
    3 to 86 m
    9.84 to 282.15 ft

Physical Description

Metasepia pfefferi is a small cephalopod with a dark brown base color. This cuttlefish has overlaying patterns of white and yellow and its arms are purple-pink. The skin contains many chromatophores, which are pigment cells that can be manipulated to change colors. Females and males have similar colors except when spawning.

Metasepia pfefferi has a very broad, oval mantle that is flattened dorsoventrally. The dorsal mantle has three pairs of large, flat, flap-like papillae, which cover its eyes. The dorsal anterior edge of the mantle lacks the tongue-like projection that is common among all other species of cuttlefish. The head is slightly narrower than the mantle. The mouth is surrounded by ten appendages. Two of the appendages are tentacles and eight of them are arms. The arms are broad and blade-like. On males, one of the arms is modified into a hectocotylus for holding and transferring spermatophores. The cuttlebone, the defining feature of a cuttlefish, is approximately two thirds to three quarters the length of the mantle. Metasepia pfefferi is also venomous. (Mangold and Young, 2008; Mangold, et al., 1999; Reid, 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range length
    60 (high) mm
    2.36 (high) in


The eggs initially are round and white, and become clear as the egg develops. Development timing depends on water temperature. (Reid, 2005)


The females generally mate with more than one male. Sometimes male cuttlefish may spray water into the female's buccal area to clear out spermatophores from previous mates. (Kaufmann, 2007)

Males will put on colorful displays to attract females. Some males may change color to look like a female to avoid a more aggressive male, but gain access to a female.

Sexes are separate. Metasepia pfefferi reproduces by internal fertilization. Males have a specialized, hectocotyl arm that is used for holding and transferring spermatophores (packets of sperm) into the females buccal areas during mating. The female grabs the spermatophores with her arms and wipes them onto her eggs. After fertilization, the female lays her eggs one by one in hard to reach cracks and crevices to hide and provide protection against predators. (Kaufmann, 2007; Mangold, et al., 1999; Reid, 2005)

  • Breeding interval
    Cuttlefish breed six to eight weeks in the spring.

The females lay eggs in places that hide them from predators, but there is no parental care post-hatching as cuttlefish die after spawning. (Norman, 2007)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female


The lifespan of Metasepia pfefferi is estimated to be between 18 and 24 months based on knowledge of other species in the same family. However, many females do not survive post-spawning. Metasepia pfefferi is rarely held in captivity, and therefore, its lifespan in captivity has not been described. (Reid, 2005)


Metasepia pfefferi is a slow swimmer, relative to other cephalopods, such as squid. The internal cuttlebone is used to regulate buoyancy by controlling the gas and liquid that it lets into the chambers of the cuttlebone. Because the cuttlebone is small relative to the mantle, cuttlefish in general cannot swim very long and generally "walk" along the bottom. Metasepia pfefferi has a highly developed set of eyes. During the day, it spend its time actively hunting for food. The chromatophores located on its skin allow them to easily change colors to blend in with their environment when stalking prey. (Kaufmann, 2007; Kaufmann, 2007; Mangold, et al., 1999; Reid, 2005)

Home Range

The home range has not been determined for this species.

Communication and Perception

Cuttlefish in general have a well-developed brain that can see, smell, and sense sound waves. The cuttlefish will change colors in response to its environment, either to lure in prey or avoid predators. Males may put on displays to attract a female. Some cuttlefish are able to go through mazes through use of visual cues.

Cuttlefish also have a well developed eye which can detect polarized light, but it is likely color-blind. Reshaping the eye allows it to focus on specific objects. ("Cephalopods: Color Change and Disguise", 2008; Kaufmann, 2007; Norman, 2007)

Food Habits

Cuttlefish are carnivorous animals. They feed primarily on crustaceans and bony fish. The beak is used to capture prey. (Kaufmann, 2007; Reid, 2005)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • aquatic crustaceans


In general, cuttlefish are preyed upon by seals, dolphins and fish. When Metasepia pfefferi is threatened, it quickly change its colors through the manipulation of its chromatophores. It creates black, white and yellow patches on its dark brown skin and turns the tips of its arms bright red. These bright colors are used to warn other creatures of its venomous nature. It will keep this color pattern while waving its protective arm membranes, until it no longer feels threatened. Cuttlefish in general will secrete ink to disorient a predator and escape. (Reid, 2005; Reid, 2005; "Cephalopods: Color Change and Disguise", 2008)

Ecosystem Roles

Metasepia pfefferi is a predatory animal. It helps to keep fish and crustacean population sizes in check. (Reid, 2005)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Currently, there are no known positive effects of Metasepia pfefferi on humans. However, it has recently been discovered that the venom it possesses is of a new class that may possibly have uses in medicine. (Norman, 2007)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Metasepia pfefferi is one of only three known venomous species of cephalopods. The venom that M. pfefferi contains is shown to have similar lethal effects as that of the blue-ringed octopus, Hapolochlaena maculosa. The venom is very toxic and it may possibly be able to quickly kill an adult human. (Norman, 2007)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans

Conservation Status

There has been little or no research into the status of Metasepia pfefferi in the wild.


Chandni N. Patel (author), Rutgers University, Michael J. Smith (author), Rutgers University, David V. Howe (editor), Rutgers University, Renee Mulcrone (editor), Special Projects.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

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Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

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uses sound to communicate


having coloration that serves a protective function for the animal, usually used to refer to animals with colors that warn predators of their toxicity. For example: animals with bright red or yellow coloration are often toxic or distasteful.


Referring to an animal that lives on or near the bottom of a body of water. Also an aquatic biome consisting of the ocean bottom below the pelagic and coastal zones. Bottom habitats in the very deepest oceans (below 9000 m) are sometimes referred to as the abyssal zone. see also oceanic vent.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

a substance used for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

intertidal or littoral

the area of shoreline influenced mainly by the tides, between the highest and lowest reaches of the tide. An aquatic habitat.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

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reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an animal that mainly eats fish

polarized light

light waves that are oriented in particular direction. For example, light reflected off of water has waves vibrating horizontally. Some animals, such as bees, can detect which way light is polarized and use that information. People cannot, unless they use special equipment.


Referring to a mating system in which a female mates with several males during one breeding season (compare polygynous).


structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


an animal which has an organ capable of injecting a poisonous substance into a wound (for example, scorpions, jellyfish, and rattlesnakes).


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


Smithsonian National Zoological Park. 2008. "Cephalopods: Color Change and Disguise" (On-line). Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Accessed December 20, 2010 at

Kaufmann, G. 2007. "Kings of Camouflage: Anatomy of a Cuttlefish" (On-line). NOVA. Accessed December 20, 2010 at

Mangold, K., M. Vecchione, R. Young. 1999. "Cephalopoda Glossary" (On-line). The Tree of Life Web Project. Accessed December 20, 2010 at

Mangold, K., R. Young. 2008. "Metasepia" (On-line). The Tree of Life Web Project. Accessed December 20, 2010 at

Norman, M. 2007. "Transcripts: Kings of Camoflauge" (On-line). NOVA. Accessed December 20, 2010 at

Reid, A. 2005. Family Sepiidae. In P. Jereb & C.F.E. Roper, eds., Cephalopods of the World. FAO Species Catalogue for Fishery Purposes, 1(4): 57-152. Accessed December 20, 2010 at