Keeping and Breeding the dwarf cuttlefish Sepia bandensis

Why Cuttlesfish?

I may be biased. Ok, I am
completely biased. I think cuttlefish may very well be the
coolest animals on the planet. They maneuver around their tank
like hummingbirds, vertically, horizontally, their fin appearing
blurred like bird wings. As they fly about they flash amazing
color changes, creating patterns that pulse and shift and shimmer
on the canvas of their skin. They are master predators, stalking
their prey with cunning and attacking with accuracy, speed and
skill. Over time, they learn to recognize and respond to you, and
will often greet you when you walk into the room (or maybe they
just know you bring the food). They are smart, beautiful and
unusual, and unlike certain other eight-armed Cephalopods, they
don’t try to escape from your aquarium.

cuttlefish_image01.JPF

Photo 1: Adult Sepia bandensis
‘begging’ for food. Head/body length about 4 inches.
Photo, Richard Ross

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My History

My infatuation with cuttlefish started when I was a kid. To
me, they just looked like extraterrestrials, and they seemed so
smart that I wanted to know more about them. I read about them,
made expeditions to public aquariums to see them, and watched any
program on cephalopods, hoping to catch a glimpse of these
fascinating creatures. Through it all, I hoped for a cuttlefish
of my own, but none ever seemed to reach the market. I kept
seeing shows on research being done on cuttlefish, but no
research station breeding them is able sell them to individuals
(please don’t bother them by asking!).

Twenty years later, after I had become proficient at
reefkeeping, I started noticing cuttlefish appearing at local
fish stores about once a year. However, they always seemed
unhealthy and I was reluctant to try my hand with
less-than-robust animals. Finally, in 2003 (I waited a long
time!) two cuttles came into a LFS that I am friendly with. When
both cuttles eagerly ate, I decided to take a chance. Two years
later, I converted an entire room in my house to cuttle fish
breeding and husbandry. For more information on my set up, and
cuttlefish video (I am quite proud of the videos) please check
out
www.DaisyHillCuttleFarm.com
.

Keeping cephalopods, and especially cuttlefish, in home
aquariums is still in its infancy, so I thought I would write an
article with all the information I would have wanted when I
started keeping them. This is not to say that there isn’t
info out there – The Octopus News Magazine Online
(www.TONMO.com ), which
recently held its first cephalopod convention in Monterey Ca, and
The Cephalopod Page, currently celebrating its 10 year
anniversary
(http://is.dal.ca/~ceph/TCP/index.html),
both have much good information and I use them often; this
article is intended to supplement those resources. My hope is
that one day, cultured cuttlefish will be commonplace in the
aquarium hobby, and I hope that this article will entice people
to not only keep them as pets, but will inspire people to breed
them as well.

Most of the information available on cuttlefish concerns
itself with Sepia officinalis, mainly because they have
been raised and used widely for research in the scientific
research community. Another reason there is hobby-side
information on S. officinalis is because they have been
relatively easy for European hobbyists to obtain.

There is sporadic importation of other species of cuttlefish
into the USA, the most common of these imports is Sepia
bandensis
. There isn’t much information on keeping
S. bandensis because they have not been studied
very much in the scientific arena, and they have rarely survived
for very long in the home aquarium.

I believe that S. bandensis, provided
captive bred/raised animals are available, are well suited to
life in the home aquarium. It is important to note that I am not
a cuttlefish ‘guru’ and that I expect that some of my
ideas regarding cuttlefish husbandry will change as more people
start keeping these animals successfully. There is much we
don’t know, and it is my hope that my experience and ideas
will inspire more people to work with these amazing animals, that
our knowledge of their husbandry needs grows rapidly, and that
captive raised S. bandensis become commonplace in the
near future.

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Nuts and bolts

Definitions

Just what the origin of the word ‘cuttlefish’ is has
not been pinned down, but according to cephalopod researcher John
W Forsythe, “The name Cuttlefish originally came about as
the best guess of how to spell or pronounce the Dutch or perhaps
Norwegian name for these beasts. It is derived from something
like ‘codele-fische’ or ‘kodle-fische’. In German
today, cuttlefish and squids are called tintenfische, meaning
‘ink-fish’. I’ve been told that the term fische
actually refers to any creature that lives in the sea or are
caught in nets when fishing, not just fishes. Anyway, that’s
what I understand the derivation of name to
be.”1

The cuttlefish isn’t a fish at all – it is a cephalopod.
Cephalopod researcher Dr. James Wood sums it up well;
“Octopuses, squids, cuttlefish and the chambered nautilus
belong to class Cephalopoda, which means ‘head foot’.
Cephalopods are a class in the phylum Mollusca which also
contains bivalves (scallops, oysters, clams), gastropods (snails,
slugs, nudibranchs), scaphopods (tusk shells) and
polyplacophorans (chitons)”2, however unlike
their relatives, cephalopodsmove much faster, actively hunt their
food, and seem to be quite intelligent.

Physiology

A cuttlefish has 8 arms, with two rows of suckers along each
arm, and two feeding tentacles with at least two rows of suckers
along each. The tentacles are tipped with a tentecular club, each
covered with suckers while the ‘shaft’ of the tentacle is
smooth. The tentacles and tentecular club act much the same as a
chameleon’s tongue; they shoot out to snare prey and bring it
back to be eaten by a beak-like mouth and a wire brush like
tongue called a radula. Cephalopods have three hearts, a ring
shaped brain, blue, copper based blood, and have a lifespan
between 6 months and 3 years.

cuttlefish_image02.JPG

Photo 2: Video frame of an adult S.
bandensis
catching prey with its tentacles. Photo, Richard
Ross

Cuttlefish have amazing eyesight having ‘w’ shaped
pupils which, according to cephalopod specialist Mark Norman
“when closed, forms two separate pupil
openings.”3

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They are also known for the amazing chromatophores,
leucophores and iridophores that change the color of their skin
(photos 3 and 4). At any time, half of their body may be one
pattern, while the other is completely different pattern. The
patterns aren’t necessarily static either, they move, like
animation on a TV screen; one pattern is referred to as
‘passing clouds’ because it seems to mimic the shadows of
clouds passing overhead – although the pattern is also thought to
mesmerize prey (see videos at
www.DaisyHillCuttleFarm).
These animations are thought to aid in communication, hunting and
camouflage. To evade predators or hide from prey, they not only
rely on their color-changing abilities but will also shape skin
on their bodies into textured protrusions (Photo 5), expel ink
from their bodies, and ‘jet’ rapidly away from
danger.

cuttlefish_image03.JPG

Photo 3: 2 week old S. bandensis,
about 1 inch long. Note the detail of the skin structure.
Photo, Richard Ross

cuttlefish_image04.JPG

Photo 4: Adult S. bandensis
mimicking the cyano covered tubing which it is hiding under.
Photo, Richard Ross

cuttlefish_image05.JPG

Photo 5: Juvenile S. bandensis
imitating macro algae. Photo, Richard Ross

For locomotion cuttlefish generally use a two-tiered approach:
a fin that girds their mantle, as well as the jet propulsion of
water pumped over the gills and through their funnel. This
‘jetting’ is often used when the animal is seriously
threatened, and can move the cuttlefish surprisingly quickly.
Some cuttlefish, like S. bandensis and
Metasepia pfefferi (flamboyant cuttlefish), actually
walk across the sand using their bottom two arms and two lobes on
the back part of the bottom of the mantle.

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One of the most well known features of the cuttle fish is the
cuttle bone, which is used by pet owners to provide calcium for
caged birds. This lighter-than-balsa-wood, gas filled,
multi-chambered internal calcified ‘shell’ gives the
cuttlefish its buoyancy control.

Cuttlefish can also produce copious amounts of ink if
startled. It is thought that the ink acts as a smokescreen to
allow the cuttlefish to escape predation. Some cuttlefish ink
forms ‘pseudomorphs’, or blobs of ink that are thought to
further aid in escape from predation by presenting the predator
with multiple targets. The question of the toxicity of cuttlefish
ink is still up in the air, although it is clear that some
cephalopod ink is indeed toxic, but again, the major reason the
ink is thought to be toxic is because it coats their gills,
causing them to suffocate. This ink has been used by humans as,
well, ink; the genus shares its name with ink – Sepia. The
cuttlefish ink is also used as an ingredient in many ‘snake
oil’ medicines that claim to cure everything from insomnia to
menopause. Cuttlefish are also quite tasty, and prepared in every
way possible, from raw to deep fried snack foods.

Hard to Keep?

Cuttlefish have traditionally been thought of as a difficult
animal to keep. I don’t think that is necessarily true – IF
you can keep a reef tank (and understand the basics of cuttlefish
care). If you have never kept a reef tank, I would strongly
suggest keeping one before you start on cuttlefish – even if not
all husbandry methods are transferable. Since the basics of
keeping both coral and cuttlefish are similar, and since cultured
corals are becoming so readily available, coral seems like a
better creature to “learn on” than cuttlefish.

In my opinion, much of the reputation of being difficult to
keep comes from cuttles being mistreated during collection and
shipping: often housed together, the resultant fighting can cause
injuries and infections, while stressed animals can ink in
shipping bags causing them to suffocate.

If you can get your hands on a cuttle in good shape, I have
found them to be pretty resilient and adaptable. Two cuttles I
recently got from a local wholesaler were in good shape and were
eating thawed frozen krill the second day I had them, and
exhibiting ‘begging’ behavior on the third!

However, please remember that cuttlefish are short-lived
animals (which has also bolstered the thought that they are
difficult animals to keep), so get prepared for your little alien
friend that greets you every time you walk into the room to be
with you for l3 months or less. According to James Wood,
“lifespan in cephalopods seems to be a function of two
things, the water temperature that they live at and the size they
mature at. Species that mature at a small size and live in warm
water have the shortest lifespan.”4

There are many ways for a cuttlefish to die. An injury from
fighting can become infected or the injury itself can be
terminal. Sometimes, a cuttlefish will be eating well and active
one day, only to be floating lifeless the next morning. If you
are able to keep a cuttlefish to the end of its natural lifespan,
you may get to experience the animal going through senescence,
which really means the process of getting old, but in cephalopods
the process is downright gut wrenching. The onset of senescence
is often marked by a clouding of the eyes. Since eyesight it
central to a cuttlefish’s hunting ability, such clouding can
be disastrous. The ability to track and catch prey is impeded,
with the animal’s tentacles seeming to not function properly
and an inability of the tentecular club to hold onto prey.
Eventually, the animal can become lethargic, showing no interest
at all in eating or even moving. To make it even more painful,
senescence can last for days or months.

The death of your cuttlefish is awful and it is going to
happen; be prepared.

Available species

There are essentially two species of cuttlefish that are
‘available’ to the aquarium trade – Sepia
officinalis
and Sepia bandensis.

Much has been written about S. officinalis because
they are bred all over the world for different kinds of research
– from neuron research to behavioral research. While S.
officinalis
are pretty simple to get a hold of if you are a
researcher, or live in Europe, they are quite difficult to get in
the US. What’s even worse from a practical point of view, is
they get big – 18 inches. It is recommended that the smallest
aquarium for a single animal be at least 200 gallons. They are
from ‘cool’ waters and like a water temp between 59 and
77 degrees Fahrenheit.

I believe that Sepia bandensis, on the other hand,
are the perfect animal for the home aquarium because they are
small: about 4 inches. Since S. bandensis is the species
with which I have the most experience, they are the focus of this
article. However, if you are interested in Sepia
officinalis
, please read this article by Colin Dunlop
(http://www.tonmo.com/cephcare/cuttlefishcare.php),
or this article by Dr. James Wood
(http://is.dal.ca/%7Eceph/TCP/cuttle1.html).

There are many Sepia species that are similar to each
other, and many may not have been identified yet, so proper
identification can be very difficult. For instance, it is
possible that the first cuttles I got were not S.
bandensis
, but I only came to this conclusion after raising
bunches of cuttles that I am more sure are S.
bandensis through observations.

Other species sometimes seen in the hobby are pharaoh
cuttlefish, Sepia pharaonis, which are even less
available than S. officinalis. I once had the honor of
keeping a flamboyant cuttlefish, Metasepia pfefferi
but not enough is known about them to make me feel comfortable
recommending them as pets, and there seem to be indications that
their populations in the wild are in decline.

Getting a cuttlefish

Getting a cuttlefish, especially in the US, is currently
difficult. There are no cuttles native to North America, so
unlike our friends in the rest of the world, you can’t just
go and collect your own; you have to hope that your LFS will get
one in stock. Still, there is hope.

There are other people, just as into cuttlefish as I am,
working on breeding Sepia bandensis in the US and the
UK. Last year Octopets.com offered captive raised Sepia
officinalis
for sale – and plan to again this year.
Octopets.com is the only facility culturing octopus for the hobby
in the US, and they also sell a variety of other marine animals.
Recently, I have been working with Octopets.com to help them
establish S. bandensis brood stock on a larger
scale than what I am working with.

I am a huge fan of captive propagation in general, and think
the benefits of captive-bred or captive-raised cuttlefish are
massive – the animals are already acclimated to captive
conditions, already eating available foods, and don’t go
through the stress of being collected or shipped from another
continent; not to mention reducing the demands on wild
populations.

Another option is to raise your animals from eggs; cuttlefish
eggs, usually S. bandensis, show up in the hobby from
time to time. They are usually added to orders as
‘filler’ and one wholesaler told me they feed them to
fish at his facility! Raising baby cuttles from eggs has its own
host of problems and benefits that will be addressed later in
this article.

Setting Up for S. bandensis

S. bandensis don’t get very big, 4 inches or
less, and a single animal can easily be kept in smallish aquaria.
They seem to be very reluctant to ink, they tend to become very
personable very quickly and, unlike octopus, they don’t try
to escape from their aquarium. Whenever I walk into my cuttle
room, they all swim to the front of their tanks to see if I will
feed them. They really seem to be the perfect cephalopod for the
home aquarium.

Below is a breakdown of what is needed to keep a single
S. bandensis in a sumpless system. I am not
going to go into very much detail because I am hoping that anyone
who wants to keep a cuttlefish already has some basic experience
in keeping saltwater tanks and understands the nitrogen cycle. If
you don’t, but are still interested in keeping a cuttlefish,
I suggest you check out Reef.org’s New Reefers Forum
(http://reefs.org/phpBB2/viewforum.php?f=64
).

  • S. bandensis can be kept in tanks as
    small as a 20 gallon high, although a 30 gallon high is better
    for a single animal. They prefer to have a tall tank, and seem
    to like the feel of the height of the water above them. They
    can, of course, be kept in bigger tanks, but the bigger the
    tank the harder it might be to make sure a small cuttlefish
    sees its food.
  • Any water pump, powerhead or filter intake should be
    covered with a filter sponge, or something similar, to keep the
    cuttlefish from being sucked into the filter or sucked against
    the intake.
  • A protein skimmer is a must, not only for oxygenation and
    water cleanliness issues, but also to deal with ink events. A
    hang on back skimmer will work just fine – I like the Bak Pak
    with a wooden air stone added to the reaction chamber to
    produce more foam. I have also used the Remora Pro, but never
    really got much skimmate out of it, but some people swear by
    them. Any decent skimmer will do.
  • A hang-on back – Preferably with a surface skimmer
    attachment to suck ‘scum’ off the top of the water. The
    mechanical filtration provided is helpful because cuttlefish
    are messy eaters and messy excreters. A HOB filter is also a
    good place to run carbon to help deal with inking events or
    other water quality issues. Make sure you change or rinse the
    filter media often. The HOB filter will also give you plenty of
    circulation for S. bandensis – provided you
    get the right sized filter for the right sized tank. I use
    Aquaclear 500’s on 20 gallon high tanks. A canister filter
    will also work just as well.
  • Extra water flow – If you need extra water flow, a power
    head will work just fine (but cover the intake with a filter
    sponge!). Air pumps are also very efficient at moving water,
    and make especially good water movement for baby
    cuttlefish.
  • Heater – S. bandensis come from at least
    the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and seem to do
    just fine between 78 and 80 degrees.
  • Chiller (if you need it). In the SF Bay area I have never
    needed one, but if I did need one I would use an IceProbe Micro
    Chiller DIY’d onto a hang on back filter. I doubt you would
    need one for this species. For S. officinalis you very
    well might want one.
  • Water quality – Specific gravity should be around 1.025, pH
    8.1-8.4, Ammonia, nitrite and nitrate as close to 0 as
    possible.
  • Make sure that the tank has completely finished its
    nitrogen cycle and is ready for a high biological load before
    adding a cuttlefish.
  • Lighting is not much of an issue as cuttles don’t
    really need it. I use Lights of America fixtures5
    from Home Depot or Costco to keep the macro algae growing. Some
    people have reported cuttles going blind from high intensity
    lighting, but I am not sure if I believe it. Cuttlefish
    eyesight tends to go as they reach senescence – the eyes cloud
    over and they find it hard to see their prey, and these are the
    symptoms that people have reported keeping cuttles under high
    intensity lighting. It is hard to tell if the timing of the eye
    problems is coincidence or caused by the lighting. Your
    lighting will also determine what corals, if any, you keep with
    the cuttle.
  • Aquascaping – I like to create big arches so the cuttles
    have places to hide, but are still easy to find. I suggest
    going light on the live rock to make it easier to find the
    cuttlefish – remember they are masters of camouflage.
  • A sand bed of 1/2 inch depth is fine. The cuttles will dig
    around in the sand, so a deep sand bed might be
    problematic.
  • S. bandensis are often found among sea fans, but
    seem to do very well with hanging macro algae. You can hang
    your macros with a lettuce clip used to feed tangs and angels
    vegetable matter.
  • Top off – over time the water in your tank will evaporate,
    and will need to be replaced. Note that the salt does NOT
    evaporate, so your top off water should be reverse osmosis
    water or reverse osmosis/deionized water heated to the
    temperature of the tank. How often you will need to top off
    your tank will depend on the rate of evaporation you
    experience.
  • No copper! Copper will kill cuttlefish.
  • Water changes – I recommend a 25 -50 percent water change
    once a month. The water should be reverse osmosis water or
    reverse osmosis/deionized water mixed with a good quality salt
    mix, heated and aerated to tank temperature for 24 hours before
    adding it to the tank.

Of course, a system with a sump would be fine as well. A sump
is essentially another tank below the show tank, often kept
inside the tank stand. Water drains from the show tank into the
sump, and is then pumped back up into the show tank. Sumps do
basically two things – they give your system a larger water
volume which makes the system more stable and they give you a
place to put equipment that may be unsightly, like your skimmer,
heater or chiller. A 50 or 100 micron sock can also be added to
the end of the tank drain for extra water filtration, but make
sure to clean it at least once a week, if not more, so the
detritus collecting in the sock don’t break down and cause
water quality issues.

Keeping groups of S. bandensis:

I have not experimented much with keeping groups of S.
bandensis
together. I have had so few animals, and I
didn’t want to risk losing them to possible injuries from
fighting. It may very well be the case that keeping groups,
especially groups raised together, of S. bandensis in
the same aquarium turns out to be a great way to keep them. It
may also turn out that the fear of fighting is overrated. I think
that as long as they are given a large enough tank that they
should be fine, but I have no ideas as to what constitutes
‘large enough’. When the current babies I have are old
enough, I plan on keeping a group of them in an undivided 100
gallon tank, so I should have more information in the near
future.

Tank Mates for S. bandensis:

Most fish, shrimp and crabs that are smaller than the cuttle
will eventually become food…they will even eat mantis shrimp.
Larger animals may distress the cuttle. In short, I would NOT
recommend having fish and cuttles in the same tank. Snails,
however, are completely safe in my experience.

Any kind of non-aggressive coral should be fine with
cuttlefish. Anything that tends to sting should be avoided.
Mushrooms, colt corals, ‘tree’ corals, clove polyps and
green star polyps are all good choices for a cuttle tank. SPS
corals may not be good choices for lighting reasons and water
quality issues.

Feeding S. bandensis

Cuttlefish are predators eating mostly crustaceans and fish.
It seems that motion triggers their amazing hunting response, so
lots of people want to feed them live foods. This can be
problematic because live food can be expensive, and even though
cuttles will eat fish, they really are crustacean eaters. The
most widely available live crustation for food is the ghost
shrimp, which is good for a snack, but may not be the best
everyday food.

There are several options to feeding your cuttlefish. Variety
is always a good idea, as it covers more nutritional bases and
keep the cuttle mind more active.

  • Live saltwater crabs/shrimp collected locally. This is a
    great, inexpensive food source if collected from a clean area.
    I live near the SF Bay, and crabs are easy to collect, but I am
    now worried about the pollution levels being problematic for
    the cuttlefish, so I don’t use them as my primary food
    source. Also, remember not to feed crabs or shrimp that are
    bigger than the cuttle just because it is cool to watch the
    fight – prey has defensives and will often injure the predator.
    (Photo 6)
  • Live saltwater fish collected locally: See above – but
    remember that Crustaceans make up the bulk of cuttle
    diets in the wild, so a fish-only diet is not best. If you are
    interested in seeing what different species of cuttlefish eat
    in the wild, please see Cephalopod Prey in the Wild
    (http://www.cephbase.dal.ca/preydb/preydb.cfm).
    Even though there is not a lot on S. bandensis, the
    information may be informative.
  • Live saltwater crabs/shrimp or fish for a live bait shop:
    Great if you can find ’em, as long as they are collected
    from a clean area.
  • Live saltwater fish from an LFS: Not the best option
    because this usually means damsels, which can be pretty
    aggressive and can even injure the cuttlefish – not to mention
    expensive. (Photo 7)
  • Live saltwater shrimp/crabs from the LFS: Great if you can
    afford them. They will almost always be expensive, but can be a
    good option in an emergency. Hermit crabs, like clean up crew
    hermits, aren’t the best idea because they are so small and
    can disappear into their shells – and the cuttlefish may ignore
    them completely.
  • Live freshwater crabs/shrimp: It is questionable if
    freshwater animals make good food source for saltwater animals
    – there may be missing nutrients or may have incompatible amino
    acids. Otherwise, ghost shrimp are eaten with gusto by
    cuttlefish, as are small fiddler crabs or very small crawfish.
    The big drawback is if the cuttle doesn’t eat the animal,
    you now have a freshwater animal in a saltwater tank . . .
    which may die and pollute the water
  • Live freshwater fish: Guppies seem to be ok, but goldfish
    seem to cause indefinable problems. The big worry is that these
    animals are treated with copper or other chemicals that can be
    detrimental/disastrous to the health of the cuttlefish.
  • Frozen Krill, fish, or other (but not cooked!): As a
    general staple, frozen krill from the LFS or fresh frozen,
    rinsed shrimp/non oily fish from your local grocery store are
    great. Make sure you thaw the food completely, and it is a good
    idea to supplement once in a while with live food. Please note
    that weaning your cuttles onto frozen food can be a challenge.
    The trick is to make the dead food look alive via a clear
    feeding stick or by having it ‘blow’ around in the
    current. Two wild-caught cuttles I currently have took to
    frozen food almost immediately with almost no work on my part,
    while other cuttles I have had would never even look at
    it.
  • Ordering live food from the internet: Great but expensive
    due to overnight shipping costs, and you will need to set up a
    separate tank to keep them alive. Check out
    TOMNO.com.
cuttlefish_image06.JPG

Photo 6: Adult S. bandensis eating
a locally caught crab. Photo, Richard Ross

cuttlefish_image07.JPG

Photo 7: Adult S. bandensis eating
a sickly Cardinal fish. Photo, Richard Ross

I suggest feeding cuttlefish at least once a day, and promptly
remove any uneaten food from the aquarium. They will eat a lot
more than once a day, but it does seem like it is possible to
over feed them. Their metabolism is very fast, so I wouldn’t
suggest not feeding them for more than a couple of days in a row.
Cuttlefish floating near the surface may be a sign of starvation,
so be on the lookout for this behavior.

Rearing S. Bandensis eggs

S. Bandensis eggs look like a cluster of 8-40 grapes,
are dark purple to black in color (the outside of the egg is
partially made of ink) and generally stay attached to each other
even after they are removed from whatever they were attached to
by the female cuttlefish. The eggs are pointy when laid, but as
they mature, they swell, become round and eventually grow so
transparent that you can watch the baby swim around inside. After
2-3 weeks, the baby cuttlefish emerge from the eggs ready to meet
the world. Sometimes a yolk sack is still attached, however this
is generally considered to be an effect of a premature hatching.
Though tiny, they are perfect replicas of their parents and begin
color changing almost immediately (and even while still in the
egg!) (Photos 8 and 9)

cuttlefish_image08.JPG

Photo 8: Baby S. bandensis inside
the egg. Photo, Mike Irving

cuttlefish_image09.JPG

Photo 9: Baby S. bandensis inside
the egg. Photo, Richard Ross

The cuttlefish are born as small as 4 mm (Photo 10), but grow
quickly, up to 1 cm in one month! I keep newly hatched S.
Bandensis
in net breeders so I can keep track of them and
make sure they are all eating (I turn the net of the net breeder
inside out so the extra material is on the outside of the net
breeder so the babies don’t get caught in it). If the babies
are kept in the main tank, they can easily get lost or sucked
into a filter. I am also experimenting with keeping baby
cuttlefish in display ‘cubes’ like you see in aquarium
stores. I often keep up to 5 individuals in the same net breeder
for several months, or until I begin to see fighting displays
(Photo 11). Then, I move them into sectioned off areas of the 100
gallon tank. I have tried keeping groups together for mating and
tried keeping individual animals apart except for mating, and
have had equal results in both cases, but will use a larger space
for groups in the future.

cuttlefish_image10.JPG

Photo 10: Baby S. bandensis. Marks
at the bottom of the frame are 1/8 inch apart. Photo, Richard
Ross

cuttlefish_image11.JPG

Photo 11: Video frame of 2 male S.
bandensis
intimidating each other with visual displays.
Photo, Richard Ross

If you have a cuttlefish that lays eggs, leave them where they
are until they start to inflate. Then you can carefully remove
them from whatever they have been laid on by removing the
‘stalk’ of the bunch of grapes from its point of
attachment and move the eggs to a net breeder or other hatching
container (avoid moving them close to hatching, because it can be
stressful) (Photos 12 and 13). It would be even safer for the
eggs if you were able to move them by moving whatever it is that
they are attached to, or you could suspend the eggs in the middle
of the water column via monofilament or bent rigid airline
tubing. Keep a gentle water flow over the eggs and remove any
eggs that fail to mature. Make sure to cover any filter/pump
intake with a filter sponge, or simply use an airpump for water
motion.

cuttlefish_image12.JPG

Photo 12: A ‘net breeder’ used to
house and protect baby S. bandensis. Photo, Richard
Ross

cuttlefish_image13.JPG

Photo 13: Baby S. bandensis inside
a ‘net breeder’. Photo, Richard Ross

Eggs come with their own set of pros and cons. The pros are
big – the eggs ship well and take up little space, and allow you
to know the exact age of your cuttles. However, the major con is
massive – feeding the babies. Baby S. bandensis may not
eat for 2 or 3 days after hatching, but once they get started,
they eat an amazing amount of food, and the food has to be the
right size. Live mysid shrimp make the perfect food, but you need
lots of them, and to make matters worse, mysids are cannibalistic
so you have to keep them in a large enough container and feed
them enough so they won’t eat each other.

If you are lucky enough to be able to collect your own, or
live near some place that cultures them and will sell them to
you, or decide to (shudder) culture your own, you win. Otherwise
you will need to have them shipped to you overnight and incur
those expenses. When I shipped in live food, I was very happy
with
www.mysid-shrimp.com, a
division of Reed Mariculture.

If you live near the coast, you can also collect amphipods
(Gammarus spp) for baby cuttlefish food, which is
actually pretty easy. I prefer to go to a gravelly area that gets
exposed at low tide, find a rock about the size of a dinner
plate, flip it over and scoop the revealed gravel into a bucket
with some tank water. When I get home, I drop a net in the
bucket. The pods tend to cling to it and voila… easy baby
feeding. (Photo 14 and 15)

cuttlefish_image14.JPG

Photo 14: Three week old baby S.
bandensis
and Gammarus spp amphipod. Marks at the
bottom of the frame are 1/8 inch apart. Photo, Richard Ross

cuttlefish_image15.JPG

Photo 15: Baby S. bandensis eating
an amphipod. Photo, Richard Ross

UK S. bandensis keeper Mike Irving collects mysid
shrimp for his baby cuttlefish: “In coastal areas you may
find that you have mysids living. Usually they are more abundant
in tidal areas, or where fresh water run-off meets salt water.
Mysids live at the sand surface, so in order to collect them, you
should take a fine net (sized so that is will let silt through
but not the mysids) and run it along the surface of the
sand/sediment. As you net disturbs the mysids and sweeps through
the water, you will catch the mysids.

A word of warning – when you collect mysids yourself, first
make sure that the water is unpolluted (however the presence of
them can sometimes indicate so, and that you do not collect too
many. When transporting them from coast to home, if you over
collect for your transportation receptacle (bucket!) they mysids
use up oxygen fast, and you can end up with a bunch of dead
shrimp. Collect light and aerate with a tube if you can – even
better buy a battery operated air pump.”

Baby fish can also be an option (octopets.com sells baby
saltwater guppies). Some people will use enriched small brine
shrimp but only in a pinch – it is thought that long term, brine
are not an adequate cuttlefish food.

Another thing to try is to wean them onto frozen mysids. Put
cuttlefish in a small tank, cube or net breeder with enough
circulation to keep the thawed mysids moving and after a few days
the babies should start eating them.

Warning: It is not known how well S. bandensis
can do with a diet of only saltwater guppies, enriched brine
shrimp, or frozen mysids
. A varied diet of other live foods
seems to give the best chance of survival.

Breeding S. bandensis

I have had limited success breeding S. bandensis
mainly through trying to keep breeding groups or pairs in hobby
sized tanks. I get lots of mating, but have lost the parents
before egg laying for reasons I believe may include fighting due
to limited space, separated cuttles injuring themselves trying to
get to each other through dividers, or slow poisoning via live
foods collected from the SF bay.

Cuttlefish breed by coupling head to head, and the male packet
of sperm called a spermatophore, is deposited into a pouch in the
female’s mantle (Photo 16) The mating can last from 10
seconds to many minutes, and in some species, males will use
their funnel to flush other male’s sperm out the females
pouch.6 Femalescan lay several clutches of eggs, and
can live for months after egg laying.

cuttlefish_image16.JPG

Photo 16: Two young adult S.
bandensis
mating. Photo, Richard Ross

Even though cuttlefish can tell each others sex on sight, it
is very difficult for humans to accurately sex them if you
don’t actually see them breeding. In general, S.
bandensis
males tend to adopt high contrast black and white
patterns when faced with another male while females tend to keep
the more relaxed mottled colors that a resting cuttlefish adopts.
However, males sometimes display like females and females
sometimes display like males, so introducing S.
bandensis
that don’t know each other should be done with
care.

The method of introduction and sexing that I am using
developed with much help from Chris Maupin. So far, while not
perfect, it seems to be effective. I built movable partitions in
a 100 gallon tank, each with a removable door that can be either
be transparent or opaque.(Photo 17) To try to sex the cuttles, I
put in the transparent door to see how they react to each other.
Hopefully, those reactions will allow me to determine the sex of
the animals. James Wood suggests holding a mirror up to the tank,
but I haven’t tried this method of sexing yet.

cuttlefish_image17.JPG

Photo 17: Divided 100 gallon tank used for
breeding and sexing S. bandensis. Photo, Richard
Ross

When I think I have a male and a female, I remove the door and
watch as the two cuttles face off. Males and females will mate
pretty much immediately, while two males will display and fight
(Photo 11). After breeding, I separate the two to prevent
fighting. If the pair ends up being two males, I separate them as
quickly as possible.

The first pair I successfully bred produced one clutch of eggs
using this method. The next cuttles I raised were all male. The
third attempt seemed successful, and the pair mated like crazy,
when disaster struck. The two lovesick cuttles were so eager to
get some “unsupervised” time together, that they
attempted to mate through the mesh of the tank dividers. Both
animals were injured, and died shortly thereafter.

cuttlefish_image18.JPG

Photo 18: Close up of the face of an adult
S. bandensis eating a crab. Photo, Richard Ross

cuttlefish_image19.JPG

Photo 19: Rear view of 3 week old S.
bandensis
eating an amphipod. Marks at the bottom of the
frame are 1/8 inch apart. Photo, Richard Ross

cuttlefish_image20.JPG

Photo 20: 3 week old baby S.
bandensis
. Marks at the bottom of the frame are 1/8 inch
apart. Photo, Richard Ross

I have also kept groups of cuttles together to see if they
would pair off or mate without intervention, but have had little
success, mostly due to apparent fighting. It is probable that the
space I gave these groups was simply too small.

When the babies I currently have are old enough, I will modify
my procedure. The modifications I’m considering are: using
different dividers, leaving an empty space between divided
cuttles to prevent them trying to reach each other, and using a
much larger tank/tub as an environment for small group to live
in. I suspect that S. bandensis would be easy to breed
with a group of 10 or so as long as they were in a 300 gallon tub
with plenty of macro algae for hiding.

Conclusion

Cuttlefish are fantastic animals, and I am still amazed that I
have them in my home. I hope that as more people begin to keep
and breed them that they will become a captive bred staple in the
aquarium hobby. I also hope that you have found this article
helpful, and that your interest in keeping and breeding
cuttlefish has grown. If you have any information on keeping or
breeding Sepia bandensis, or if you have found any
errors in this article, please contact me because to make captive
bred bandensis readily available we need to pool our
information.

Acknowledgments

My efforts with Sepia bandensis would not have been
possible without the generous help of Bob Mendelsohn, Chris
Maupin, Colin Dunlop, Mike Irving, Dr, James Wood, both the
Reefs.org and
TONMO online communities and
the information compiled by Dr. James Wood on The Cephalapod Page
and Cephbase. I also need to thank my wife Libby for allowing the
absurdity of attempting to breed cuttlefish in a house and for
her immeasurable help in writing this article.

External Links

  1. www.DaisyHillCuttleFarm.com
  2. The Cephalopod Page –
    http://is.dal.ca/~ceph/TCP/index.html
  3. The Octopus News Magazine Online –
    www.TONMO.com
  4. CephBase –
    http://www.cephbase.utmb.edu/
  5. Mike Irvings
    www.CephsUK.co.uk
  6. www.Octopets.com
  7. Lights of America Fixtures –
    http://www.lightsofamerica.com/floods.htm

References

  1. Norman, Mark (2000), ‘Cephalopods a world guide’,
    ConchBooks PP 1-92

  2. http://www.cephbase.utmb.edu/TCP/faq/TCPfaq2b.cfm?ID=4
  3. http://is.dal.ca/~ceph/TCP/index.html
  4. Norman, Mark (2000), ‘Cephalopods a world guide’.
    ConchBooks : pp.82
  5. Private correspondence referring to the following paper:
    Wood J.B. and R.K. O’Dor (2000). Do larger cephalopods live
    longer? Effects of temperature and phylogeny on interspecific
    comparisons of age and size at maturity. Marine
    Biology.
    136 (1) : pp.91 ††
  6. Norman, Mark (2000), ‘Cephalopods a world guide’.
    ConchBooks : pp.42
Category:
  Advanced Aquarist
Rich Ross
About

 Rich Ross

  (27 articles)

Richard Ross currently works as an Aquatic Biologist at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences, maintaining many exhibits including the 212,000 gallon Philippine Coral Reef. He has kept saltwater animals for over 25 years, and has worked in aquarium maintenance, retail, wholesale and has consulted for a coral farm/fish collecting station in the South Pacific. Richard enjoys all aspects of the aquarium hobby and is a regular author for trade publications, a frequent speaker at aquarium conferences and was a founder of one of the largest and most progressive reef clubs in Northern California, Bay Area Reefers. He is an avid underwater videographer and has been fortunate to scuba dive in a lot of places around the world. At home he maintains a 300 gallon reef system and a 250 gallon cephalopod/fish breeding system, and was one of the first people to close the life cycle of Sepia bandensis. When not doing all that stuff, he enjoys spending time with his patient wife, his incredible daughter and their menagerie of animals, both wet and dry.

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