Sepia officinalis

Geographic Range

Sepia officinalis is generally found in the eastern North Atlantic, throughout the English Channel, and south into the Mediterranean Sea so it is often referred to as the "European Cuttlefish". However, populations have also been recorded along the west coast of Africa, and as far south as South Africa. (Jereb and Roper, 2005; King, 2009)


Sepia officinalis is a marine organism, categorized as a “shallow water cephalopod”, dwelling in sandy or muddy substrates. Its habitat ranges from subtidal waters to depths of 200 meters. Members of this species follow seasonal migrations. They spend spring and summer in inshore waters, then migrate to depths of 100 m to 200 m during autumn and winter. Sepia officinalis commonly spends the daytime hidden in sand. (Jereb and Roper, 2005; King, 2009; Neves, et al., 2009)

  • Range depth
    0 to 200 m
    0.00 to 656.17 ft

Physical Description

Sepia officinalis measures up to 45 cm in mantle length, ranging from 30 cm in subtropic areas to 49 cm in temperate areas. Weights are between 2 kg (subtropic areas) and 4 kg (temperate areas). The largest recorded individual reached a mantle length of 60 cm. European cuttlefish have large eyes and a mouth with beak like jaws located at the base of the mantle. The mantle houses reproductive and digestive organs, as well an internal shell called the cuttlebone. The cuttlebone shape is oblong with a rounded posterior end and an anterior end that tapers to a point.

The body of S. officianalis is broad and dorso-ventrally flattened, having an oval shaped cross section. A pair of flat, wide fins runs the length of the mantle. The mouth is surrounded by eight arms and two longer tentacles, all equipped with suckers. Mature Sepia officinalis exhibit a zebra stripe pattern on the dorsal surface of their mantles during breeding season. Adult males are distinguished by white and black zebra bands on their fourth arm, as well as white arm spots. Sepia officinalis is able to change the color and even texture of its skin using structures called chromatophores, leucophores, and iridophores. These structures function to camouflage this species to its variable surroundings. Generally, however, Sepia officinalis has a mottled black or brown color. (Jereb and Roper, 2005; "Cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis at Marine Bio", 2010; "Common cuttlefish- Sepia officinalis", 2003)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range mass
    2 to 4 kg
    4.41 to 8.81 lb
  • Range length
    60 (high) cm
    23.62 (high) in
  • Average length
    45 cm
    17.72 in


Females deposit clusters of eggs on seaweed, shells, and other substrate along the seafloor. Eggs measure 6 to 9 mm in diameter, hatching after about 2 months, or 30-90 days, depending on water temperature. Once hatched, the young Sepia officinalis have a total length of 50 mm. Newly hatched young are well developed and can almost immediately start feeding on small prey. Growth rates vary with temperature, the young growing faster at lower temperatures. Sepia officinalis generally reaches maturity at 14 to 18 months of age. (Jereb and Roper, 2005; King, 2009; "Common cuttlefish- Sepia officinalis", 2003)


Sepia officinalis has separate male and female sexes. In the spring and summer, male and females migrate to shallow, warmer waters to spawn. They exhibit elaborate courtships, wherein males attract females through spectacular displays of colored bands passing rapidly along their bodies. Males then hold their arms stiffly in a basket formation to show their virility. Similarly, females display a uniform gray color when ready to mate. Mate guarding, in which males aggressively fight over and guard their females, is also common. (Hart, 2010; Jereb and Roper, 2005; King, 2009; Neves, et al., 2009)

Mating in Sepia officinalis involves internal fertilization. The male deposits spermaphores into the female’s buccal membrane using a hectocotylized arm (tentacle arm used as intromittent organ). Males carry as many as 1400 spermatophores, while females carry somewhere between 150 and 4000 eggs, depending on body size. Sepia officinalis reaches sexual maturity at 14 to 18 months of age. Females can lay eggs several times at the ends of their lives. However, after spawning both male and females die. (Jereb and Roper, 2005; King, 2009; "Cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis at Marine Bio", 2010; "Common cuttlefish- Sepia officinalis", 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    European cuttlefish typically breed only once in their lifetime.
  • Breeding season
    European cuttlefish breed during the spring and summer.
  • Range number of offspring
    100 to 1000
  • Range gestation period
    30 to 90 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    14 to 18 months
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    13 to 18 months

Fertilized eggs are stored in the oviduct of the female Sepia officinalis until they are ready to be deposited. Eggs are produced with deposits of ink, to color and, therefore, camouflage the eggs for protection. A young Sepia officinalis hatches with a yolk to provide nutritious support until they are able to catch their own prey. ("Cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis at Marine Bio", 2010)

  • Parental Investment
  • precocial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female


Sepia officinalis has a typical lifespan of one to two years. (King, 2009)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 to 2 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    1 to 2 years


Sepia officinalis is active at night and spends most of its time on the sea floor. It swims mainly to eat, mate or fight with other cuttlefish. The undulating fins on either side of its mantle aid in swimming. The European cuttlefish also has the ability to rapidly propel itself by forcing water through its siphon. Sepia officinalis is typically a solitary species except during mating. Cuttlefish can change the color and texture of its skin within seconds, allowing it to camouflage with its environment and to communicate with other cuttlefish or predators. Special structures within its skin enable it to change colors quickly. The cuttlefish expands and contracts these structures to create the different patterns of colors and textures on its skin. Sepia officinalis can create uniform body patterns or to exhibit multiple patterns at the same time. Another anti-predatory behavior is to secrete ink. (Dunlop, 2003; Hart, 2010; "Cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis at Marine Bio", 2010)

  • Range territory size
    5300 to 23700 m^2

Home Range

The home range for Sepia officinalis varies from 90 to 550 meters. This means that the typical area a cuttlefish will roam in is between 5,300 square meters and 23,700 square meters. (Aitken, et al., 2005)

Communication and Perception

Sepia officinalis has highly developed eyes and often communicates with other cuttlefish and predators using visual cues. Not only does it use its skin-changing ability to convey messages, but it also communicates by swimming in certain patterns or holding its tentacles in certain postures. In addition to communicating by altering its skin’s appearance, a cuttlefish can also indicate that it feels threatened by ejecting black ink from its siphon. (Dunlop, 2003; Hart, 2010)

  • Communication Channels
  • visual

Food Habits

Sepia officinalis preys upon a wide variety of animals. It primarily feeds on crustaceans and fish, but has also been known to eat gastropods, nemertean worms, polychaetes and even other cuttlefish. Sepia officinalis is an ambush predator that hunts by blending in with its background and sneaking up on prey. When the prey is close, Sepia officinalis has two modes of attack. One is to shoot out its two longer tentacles, grab the prey using the suckers on the tentacular clubs at the tips of the tentacles and bring the prey into its beak to feed. The other attack mode is pounce on its prey and use its arms to capture and maneuver the prey while it tears at the prey with its radula and beak. Both adult and immature cuttlefish hunt for food during the night. Some studies have shown that cuttlefish embryos have the ability to learn about prey items while still encased in their eggs using their fully-developed eyes to observe prey species. Hatchlings that observed crabs while inside their eggs preferred to eat crab over other prey items. (Boletzky and Hanlon, 1983; Dunlop, 2003; Mangold and Young, 1996; Walker, 2008)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • mollusks
  • aquatic or marine worms
  • aquatic crustaceans


Sepia officinalis is prey for large fish, seals, sharks, dolphins and whales. The cuttlefish avoids predation by camouflaging with its environment, disorienting predators by releasing ink when threatened, and propelling itself away from danger. (Dunlop, 2003; "Cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis at Marine Bio", 2010)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Sepia officinalis is highly active, grows quickly and expends high amounts of energy per reproductive effort. In order to meet its energetic needs, a cuttlefish will eat voraciously. Therefore, cuttlefish play an important ecological role as consumers. Because they eat a wide variety of prey and can be highly mobile, cuttlefish can fill a broad and flexible ecological niche. (Aitken, et al., 2005; Mangold and Young, 1996; Wood, 2009)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Sepia officinalis is commercially fished and eaten by humans. Its ink has many uses including homeopathic medicinal uses and use as dyes and paint. Many people keep cuttlefish as pets. People often give cuttlebones from cuttlefish to their pet birds as dietary supplements and to keep their birds' beaks in good health. (Davis, 2010; Dunlop, 2003; Unknown, 2007; Wood, 2009)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Sepia officinalis on humans.

Conservation Status

This species of cuttlefish are believed to be abundant and faces no threat of extinction. Studies indicate that fishing is occurring around the maximum sustainable yield, so no special conservation status is applied to them. (Royer, et al., 2006)


Ae Lin Compton (author), Rutgers University, Laura Wiley (author), Rutgers University, David V. Howe (editor), Rutgers University, Renee Mulcrone (editor), Special Projects.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map


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


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.


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


A substance that provides both nutrients and energy to a living thing.


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


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

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


active during the night


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

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


an animal that mainly eats fish


having more than one female as a mate at one time

saltwater or marine

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

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


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


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


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Marine Bio Conservation Society. 2010. "Cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis at Marine Bio" (On-line). Accessed December 10, 2010 at

Aitken, J., R. O'Dor, G. Jackson. 2005. The secret life of the giant Australian cuttlefish Sepia apama (Cephalopoda): Behaviour and energetics in nature revealed through radio acoustic positioning and telemetry (RAPT). Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 320: 77-91.

Boletzky, S., R. Hanlon. 1983. A review of the laboratory maintenance, rearing and culture of cephalopod molluscs. Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria, 44: 147-187.

Davis, D. 2010. "Cuttlebone and birds - five reasons why cuttlebone is good for pet birds" (On-line). Ezine articles. Accessed December 10, 2010 at

Dunlop, C. 2003. "Cuttlefish basics" (On-line). The Octopus News Magazine Online. Accessed December 10, 2010 at

Hart, S. 2010. "ACP- Cephalopods" (On-line). The Animal Communication Project. Accessed December 10, 2010 at

Jereb, P., C. Roper. 2005. Cephalopods of the world. An annotated and illustrated catalogue of cephalopod species known to date. Volume 1. Chambered nautiluses and sepioids (Nautilidae, Sepiidae, Sepiolidae, Sepiadariidae, Idiosepiidae and Spirulidae).. FAO Species Catalogue for Fishery Purposes, 1 (4): 1-262. Accessed December 10, 2010 at

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Mangold, K., R. Young. 1996. "Sepiidae" (On-line). Tree of Life Project. Accessed December 10, 2010 at

Neves, A., H. Cabral, V. Sequeria. 2009. Distribution patterns and reproduction of the cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis in the Sado estuary. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 89: 579-584.

Royer, J., G. Pierce, E. Foucher, J. Robin. 2006. The English Channel stock of Sepia officinalis: Modelling variability in abundance and impact of the fishery. Fisheries Research, 78: 96-106. Accessed December 10, 2010 at

Unknown, 2007. "Sepia (Cuttlefish ink)" (On-line). Accessed December 10, 2010 at

Walker, M. 2008. "Cuttlefish spot target prey early" (On-line). BBC News. Accessed December 10, 2010 at

Wood, J. 2009. "Cuttlefish husbandry: Part I - What is a cuttlefish anyway?" (On-line). The Cephalopod Page. Accessed December 10, 2010 at