Home > Biology, Science > Cuttlefish: because testiclefish just sounds wrong

Cuttlefish: because testiclefish just sounds wrong

While watching Iron Chef America the other day, Mario “Cheeto” Batali cooked up some cuttlefish. I know that I had heard of them before, but couldn’t quite remember why, so I googled a picture of them.

“Those are some Cthulhu looking motherfuckers,” I said to my wife.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Bamf!”

“Oh, I see what you mean. Did you know that they mate for life?” She asked.

We were both winding down from a particularly long day and wrestling with bouts of depression I’m certain were brought about by SAD. Calling the two of us cranky would be a kindness, we were positively bitchy (meaning that we were truly bitchy, not bitchy in a positive way). My original, snarky inclination was to respond with, “Why would they do something as stupid as that?” On a good day, I could get away with this. This was not a good day, and I was certain that if I pushed it, my wife would pick up our daughter and do some sort of Vulcan neck pinch on her which would cause projectile spit up all over me and my laptop.

“Mmmm?” I responded.

“Hence their names, cuddle-fish.”

I googled a bit, “Yeah, that’s not true.”

I related this story not to poke fun at my wife or embarrass her (99.999% of the time she’s right about something like this) but to show how often odd little random things will pique my interest in a subject. This time it was two connected topics, firstly what cuttlefish were (they’re awesome, just you wait) and also the etymology of their name. It turns out that they’re called cuttlefish not because of any fondness for the opposite sex in their species, but because of their shape.

Cuttle is derived from the an old English word (cudele) which itself was derived from a Norwegian word (koddi, meaning cushion or testicle) which finally finds its origins in a middle German word (kudel, meaning pouch). The scientific name and the name of the order cuttlefish belong to is called Sepiida because of the brownish liquid that cuttlefish release when frightened. Isn’t that awesome? No? Well, if you’re ever on Jeopardy and lose everything because the final question asked about the origin of the word koddi, don’t come crying to me.

From their appearance, you might’ve already guessed that cuttlefish aren’t actually fish, but mollusks. They belong in the same class as octopii (I know the proper term is octopuses, but this sounds better) and squid. Like most cephalopods , they have an internal shell and tentacles. I never knew this before but there is a distinction between a tentacle and an arm on a cephalopod. An arm has suckers all along its length, while a tentacle only has them near its end. Cuttlefish have two tentacles and eight arms, much like squid. They also have W-shaped pupils, which makes them look adorably angry all the time.

Besides apparently being delicious to ginger Italians, cuttlefish are probably best known for their cuttlebone, which is given to parakeets and other birds as a kind of chew toy which provides calcium. The cuttlebone actually allows the cuttlefish to change its buoyancy. The cuttlebone has numerous chambers and by changing the gas to liquid ratio, the cuttlefish can either rise or sink.

Cuttlefish are also remarkably good at camouflage. They can change their entire body color in less than a second. They accomplish this because their skin contains a number of pigments and by muscle manipulation. Each pigment cell is surrounded by a number of muscles, when these muscles are flexed they expand and are brought to the surface. By doing this they can change their skin color a number of different ways and very quickly. Observe:

Because of their W-shaped pupils, the cuttlefish can see in two directions at once. They also are fairly toxic to eat. The poison in their body is actually not yet identified, but is thought to be at least as toxic as that of the blue ringed octopus. No doubt the great old ones wanted their children to be well protected.

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Categories: Biology, Science Tags: , ,
  1. March 7, 2010 at 10:45 pm

    Cuttlefish are all kinds of cool, even if they don’t cuddle much…

  2. March 10, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    I think I’ve had some sort of cuttlefish flavoured chip-like snack once. My friend said it was cuttlefish, anyway. It was very disgusting, and I had to spit out the chip.

    So while they look cool, don’t eat them, ’cause they’re gross.

  3. DJ
    March 13, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Seafood and chips don’t mix. Unless you’re in England, and chips are slang for fries. Then they actually go together really well.

  4. Barrett Westberg
    September 23, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    “They belong in the same class as octopii (I know the proper term is octopuses, but this sounds better)” The plural form of octopus is actually “octopodes”.

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