The Lembeh Strait, North Sulawesi, Indonesia

A flamboyant cuttlefish wearing warning colors scuttles along the sand in the Lembeh Strait
Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Flamboyant cuttlefish. The name of the thing just sounds to me like something I’ve just got to see. We’ve all seen cuttlefish (or perhaps pictures): They’re common in all oceans. The critter is all head, with little tentacles. They are the original source of that thing we hang up in bird cages for our pets to gnaw — the cuttlebone (also useful as a calcium supplement for hermit crabs, snails, reptiles, etc.). They generally come in gray, brown, tan … some inoffensive beige-ish color.

But how does a cuttlefish get to be flamboyant? Having read about them (even seen a few pictures, which I only half-remembered), I really wanted to see a flamboyant cuttlefish. It was on my short list when the dive shop staff at The Lembeh Resort asked what we wanted to see.

We came across a number of flamboyant cuttlefish in the sand along the bottom of the Lembeh Strait. The flamboyant cuttlefish (“Pfeffer’s Flamboyant Cuttlefish,” Metasepia pfefferi) is named the bright warning coloration it adopts when approached. Normally it is very drab — dull shades of brown, looking like a rock on the sandy bottom, “walking” sedately around the bottom using its lower arms (tentacles). It adopts bright shades of red, purple, and pink with that distinctive yellow border when disturbed (for instance, by a hulking diver shoving a large camera lens into its “face”).

An underwater photographer looms over his subject, a very small flamboyant cuttlefish
Eclipsing the Subject

Like almost everything we saw in the Strait, this is a very small beastie; the ones we saw were between two and four inches (say, about 5 to 10 cm) long, including tentacles. The first time we saw one, I assumed it must’ve been a baby. Wrong. We spied many on our dives. They were all tiny. On the last dive we were surprised to find one nearly four or five inches (10-12 cm) long. That one was worthy of conversation back on the dive boat: A giant!

(Top photo [“Flamboyant Cuttlefish”]: Canon G11 in Ikelite housing with twin Ikelite DS-125 strobes under TTL control; integrated lens at 12.1mm on macro setting; ISO 200; f/4.0 at 1/60 sec.)

(Lower photo [“Eclipsing the Subject”]: Same camera and housing but no flash; lens at 6.1mm (normal); ISO 200; f/2.8 at 1/30 sec.)