Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps


Compiler and date details

July 2001 - C.C. Lu, National Chung Hsing University, Taichung, Taiwan


Members of the family Sepiidae Keferstein, 1866 are common on the continental shelf and upper slope of the temperate to tropical waters of the Old World. They are found from Japan, China, the Philippines and Indo-Malaya to Australia, eastward to Fiji and westward around the Indian Ocean to the Eastern Atlantic as far north as the North Sea. The family does not occur around the Americas. In the Pacific the easternmost records are from the Marshall Islands and Fiji; no sepiids are known to occur in New Zealand waters.

The family comprises some 100 nominal species in three genera: Sepia, Metasepia and Sepiella (Lu & Reid 1997; Khromov et al. 1998; Reid & Lu 1998, Reid 2000). Thirty-three species representing all three genera have been reported from Australian waters (Lu & Reid 1997; Lu 1998; Reid 1998; Reid & Lu 1998; Reid 2000).

The study and naming of cuttlefish dates back to Linnaeus who named the common cuttlefish of Europe Sepia officinalis in 1758. Subsequently, many authors have contributed to the description and naming of members of this family, notably, Lesueur (1821), Férussac and d'Orbigny (1835–1848), Gray (1849), and more recently Voss (1963), Adam (in Adam & Rees 1964), Roeleveld (1972), Roeleveld and Liltved (1985), and Khromov (1987a, 1987b, 1987c; 1990). Despite the numerous published papers dealing with the cuttlefish taxonomy, detailed taxonomic revisions are few. Rochebrune (1884) attempted to monograph the family but the classification he proposed was largely refuted by Adam and Rees (1964). Roeleveld's (1972) monograph clarified the Sepiidae of South African waters. Khromov (1987c, 1990) reported his work on the classification and phylogeny of Sepiidae. Recently, Khromov et al. (1998) and Lu (1998) have provided synoptic reviews of the family.

The first descriptions of cuttlefish from Australian waters were published in the first half of the 19th century (Lesueur 1821; Gray 1849), but the taxonomy and biology of the Australian cuttlefish are as yet poorly known. Brazier (1892) listed 14 species of Sepia from Australia, among them several names from the South African fauna. Berry (1918) described three species of Sepia from southern Australia. Between 1926 and 1954, Iredale (1926a, 1926b, 1940, 1954) and Cotton (1929, 1931, 1932) described and named 29 and seven cuttlefish taxa, respectively. All were based solely on the sepions; the soft parts of the animals were not described. Adam (1979) reported on the cuttlefish collection in the Western Australian Museum; he described 18 species of Sepia and clarified the status of many of Iredale and Cotton's taxa. Lu & Phillips (1985) and Lu (1998), incorporating Adam's (1979) findings with new data, summarised the status and distribution of the Sepiidae from Australian waters. Roper & Hochberg (1988) after studying the colour pattern and locomotion of Sepia (Metasepia) pfefferi at Lizard Island elevated the subgenus Metasepia to generic status. Lu (1998) recognised 26 species in all three genera, Sepia, Metasepia and Sepiella, from Australian waters; three known only from cuttlebones were designated as of uncertain status. Six further species have been added to the list since the preparation of that paper (Lu & Reid 1997; Reid & Lu 1998; Reid 2000).

Recent work reveals that of the 33 species (excluding the two species known only from sepions), 26 are considered to be endemic to Australian waters (Lu & Reid 1997; Lu 1998; Reid 1998; Reid & Lu 1998). The figure strongly supports Adam & Rees (1966) assertion that worldwide, the Australian sepiid fauna is among the richest in endemic species.

The normal life-span of the common European cuttlefish Sepia officinalis varies from 18 to 24 months although some individual male may live longer. Mass mortality at the end of the spawning period occurs on the Atlantic Coast; no comparable intensity has been reported in the Mediterranean. In Australia, mass mortality of Sepia apama has been observed in July/August off the coast of New South Wales (Battam, pers. comm.). Examination of two of the individuals involved revealed that the male (382 mm mantle length (ML), 6.2 kg) was mature and the female (300 mm ML, 2.4 kg) immature; the stomachs of both individuals were empty. The cause of such mortality is uncertain.

In Sepia officinalis, a positive correlation has been found between temperature and early growth rate, and between maximum size and life span. Negative correlations are reported between maximum size or age and early growth rate, and between temperature and life span (Richard, cited in Boletzky 1983). Pascual (1978), on the basis of rearing experiments, concluded that faster growth at higher temperatures is due to higher food intake; that the efficiency of food conversion is independent of temperature. The growth rate of Sepia apama has been estimated to be 10 mm per month, the animals taking 10 to 12 months to reach adult size (Bell 1979). A large specimen, with ML 460 mm, was estimated to be about four years old.

Cuttlefish may attain sexual maturity at very different sizes. Mangold-Wirz (1963) reported that male Sepia officinalis can be fully mature as small as 6–8 cm ML, while individuals as large as 10 cm ML may still be immature; females also exhibit the same phenomenon, maturing at sizes varying from 11 to 25 cm ML. The same phenomenon has been observed in Sepia pharaonis from the Gulf of Carpentaria where the mature males range from 4.7 cm ML to 14.5 cm ML and mature females range from 14.1 cm ML to 17.4 cm ML; the largest immature female measured 14.3 cm ML (Dunning et al. 1994; Lu, unpublished). The factors responsible for this variation in body size at maturity were found to be the combined effect of temperature and light (Richard, cited in Boletzky 1983).

In Sepia officinalis spawning occurs soon after mating. Eggs are laid in regular intervals of 2–3 minutes over several hours. The egg is 2.5–3 cm in length, 1.2–1.4 cm in the greatest diameter. Each is fixed to any oblong object by means of a ring-shaped basal structure. The ring is produced by the animal which uses its arm tips to draw the gelatinous envelope of the egg into a pair of processes and then winds them round the supporting object so that they stick together (Boletzky 1983). A female may empty her ovary of mature eggs within a few days. Mangold-Wirz (1963) also found that the total number of eggs in an individual varies from 500 to over 1000, depending on the size of the animal. The duration of embryonic development varies with temperature and ranges from 40–45 days at 20°C to 80–90 days at 15°C. Hatchlings of Sepia officinalis have ML 6–9 mm and are similar to the adult in overall features.

Predators on cuttlefishes are many and include the short-finned pilot whale, Globicephala macrorhyncha in South Africa (Roeleveld in Clarke 1986), the pygmy sperm whale, Kogia breviceps and the dwarf sperm whale Kogia simus in South Africa (Ross 1979 cited in Clarke 1986), and Risso's dolphin, Grampus griseus in the English Channel (Clarke & Pascoe 1985). In Australia, they are known to be preyed upon by the long-finned pilot whale Globicephala melas and the Australian fur seal Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus in Tasmania (Gales et al. 1992, 1994).

The prey of Sepia species consists of a wide variety of organisms. Najai & Ktari (1974 cited in Boletzky 1983) found decapods including Penaeus species, isopods such as species of Sphaeroma, Cymodocea, copepods and ostracods, bivalves, gastropods and pteropods, octopods and decapod cephalopods, polychaetes and nemerteans and fishes in the stomach contents of Sepia officinalis from the coast of Tunisia. Little is known about food of cuttlefish in Australian waters, however, crustacean remains have been found in the stomachs of large numbers of individuals of Sepia pharaonis, S. elliptica and S. smithi from the Gulf of Carpentaria (Lu 2001).


Excluded Taxa


SEPIIDAE: Sepia aculeata Van Hasselt in Férussac & d'Orbigny, 1848 [occurrence in Queensland is unconfirmed; Lu, personal communication, regards this species excluded from the Australian fauna; Sepia aculeata occurs in the Indo-Pacific south to Java] — Brazier, J. 1892. Catalogue of the Marine Shells of Australia and Tasmania. Pt I. Cephalopoda; Pt II. Pteropoda. Sydney : Australian Museum Catalogue Vol. 15 42 pp. (listed species from Australian waters); Lu, C.C. & Phillips, J.U. 1985. An annotated checklist of Cephalopoda from Australian waters. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Victoria 2: 21-36 (removed species from Australian distribution); Lu, C.C. 2001. Cephalopoda. pp. 129-308 in Wells, A. & Houston, W.W.K. (eds). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Vol. 17.2 Mollusca: Aplacophora, Polyplacophora, Scaphopoda, Cephalopoda. Melbourne : CSIRO Publishing, Australia xii 353 pp. [Date published 3 July 2001] [185] (listed the species from Australian waters)



The cuttlefish of this speciose family are small to medium sized (although several species reach 50 cm in mantle length), and bear a characteristic calcareous sepion (cuttlebone). The sepion is porous, finely laminated and is located on the dorsal side of the mantle underneath the skin. The spine at the posterior end of the sepion may be absent in some species. The mantle is broad, or slender, robust, elongate oval to circular in outline and slightly flattened dorso-ventrally. The head is robust with prominent eyes that are covered by a transparent membrane; the eyelid has a conspicuous secondary fold. The funnel-mantle locking apparatus is curved to angular in shape. The fins are narrow, lateral to the mantle and occupy almost whole length of the mantle. The posterior end of the fins is not connected to the mantle, but forms a free lobe. The eight arms are equipped with two to four rows of suckers. The tentacles can be retracted into a pocket on the ventro-lateral sides of the head. The tentacular clubs bear four to eight or more (may be more than 20) rows of suckers, depending on the species.

The calcareous shell (sepion) lies under the skin on the dorsal side of the mantle, running almost the entire length of the mantle. The shape of the sepion ranges from lanceolate, oval to rhomboidal. The dorsal side of the sepion is a calcareous plate called dorsal shield. Ventrally the sepion is a series of numerous thin, narrow, oblique septa which are supported by numerous transverse calcareous rods. A spine is present at the posterior end of the sepion in most species, with the exception of Sepiella species and a few species of Sepia.


General References

Adam, W. 1979. The Sepiidae (Cephalopoda, Decapoda) in the collections of the Western Australian Museum. Records of the Western Australian Museum 7: 113-212 pls 1-13

Adam, W. & Rees, W.J. 1966. A review of the cephalopod family Sepiidae. Scientific Reports of the John Murray Expedition 11: 1-165

Bell, K.N. 1979. The breeding time and growth rate of Sepia apama (Mollusca: Cephalopoda). Victorian Naturalist 96: 19-20

Berry, S.S. 1918. Report on the Cephalopoda obtained by the F.I.S. Endeavour in the Great Australian Bight and other southern Australian localities. Biological Results of the Fishing Experiments carried on by the F.I.S. Endeavour 1909-1914 4: 203-298 pls 59-88

Boletzky, S.v. 1983. Sepia officinalis. pp. 31-52 in Boyle, P.R. (ed.). Cephalopod Life Cycles. Vol. 1. Species Accounts. London : Academic Press xvii 474 pp.

Brazier, J. 1892. Catalogue of the Marine Shells of Australia and Tasmania. Pt I. Cephalopoda; Pt II. Pteropoda. Sydney : Australian Museum Catalogue Vol. 15 42 pp.

Clarke, M.R. 1986. Cephalopods in the diet of odontocetes. pp. 281-321 in Bryden, M.M. & Harrison, R. (eds). Research on Dolphins. Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Clarke, M.R. & Pascoe, P.L. 1985. The stomach contents of a Risso's dolphin (Grampus griseus) stranded at Thurlestone, South Devon. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 65: 663-665

Cotton, B.C. 1929. Contributions to the fauna of Rottnest Island. 4. Western Australian Sepiidae. Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia 15: 87-94 pls 14-16

Cotton, B.C. 1931. Cuttlebones from Robe, with description of a new species. South Australian Naturalist 12: 39-42

Cotton, B.C. 1932. Notes on Australian Mollusca, with descriptions of new genera and new species. Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 4: 537-547

Dunning, M., McKinnon, S., Lu, C.C., Yeatman, J. & Cameron, D. 1994. Demersal cephalopods of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 45: 351-374

Férussac, A. de & d'Orbigny, A. 1834. [1835–1848] Histoire naturelle générale et particulière des cephalopodes acetabulifères vivants et fossiles. Paris : Libraire F. Savy.

Gales, R., Pemberton, D., Clarke, M. & Lu, C.C. 1992. Stomach contents of long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) and bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Tasmania. Marine Mammal Science 8(4): 405-413

Gales, R., Pemberton, D., Lu, C.C. & Clarke, M.R. 1993. Cephalopod diet of the Australian fur seal: variation due to location, season and sample type. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 44: 657-671

Gray, J.E. 1849. Catalogue of the Mollusca in the Collection of the British Museum. 1. Cephalopoda Antepedia. London : British Museum (Natural History) 164 pp.

Iredale, T. 1926a. The cuttlefish 'bones' of the Sydney beaches (Phylum Mollusca–Class Cephalopoda). The Australian Zoologist 4: 186-196 pls 22, 23

Iredale, T. 1926b. The biology of North-West Islet, Capricorn Group. Marine molluscs. The Australian Zoologist 4: 237-240

Iredale, T. 1940. Marine molluscs from Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island, Australia, and New Caledonia. The Australian Zoologist 9(4): 429-443, pl. 32-34 [Date published 9 December 1940]

Iredale, T. 1954. Cuttlefish 'bones' again. The Australian Zoologist 12: 63-82 pls 4, 5

Khromov, D.N. 1987a. A new species of Sepia (Cephalopoda: Sepiidae) from the north-western South China Sea. Asian Marine Biology 4: 35-40

Khromov, D.N. 1987b. Cuttlefishes of the family Sepiidae (Cephalopoda) in the collection of Zoological USSR Academy of Sciences. Proceedings of the Zoological Institute, Leningrad 171: 174-195 [In Russian]

Khromov, D.N. 1987b. System and phylogeny of the cuttlefish family Sepiidae (Cephalopoda). Zoologicheskii Zhurnal 66: 1164-1176 [In Russian]

Khromov, D.N. 1990. Cuttlefishes in the systematics and phylogeny of Cephalopoda. Journal of Ichthyology 30(2): 10-19

Khromov, D.N., Lu, C.C., Guerra, A., Dong, Zh. & Boletzky, S.v. 1998. A synopsis of Sepiidae outside Australian waters (Cephalopoda: Sepioidea). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 586: 77-139

Lesueur, C.A. 1821. Descriptions of several new species of cuttlefish. Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 2: 86-101

Lu, C.C. 1998. A synopsis of Sepiidae in Australian waters (Sepioidea: Cephalopoda). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 586: 159-190

Lu, C.C. 2001. Cephalopoda. pp. 129-308 in Wells, A. & Houston, W.W.K. (eds). Zoological Catalogue of Australia. Vol. 17.2 Mollusca: Aplacophora, Polyplacophora, Scaphopoda, Cephalopoda. Melbourne : CSIRO Publishing, Australia xii 353 pp. [Date published 3 July 2001]

Lu, C.C. & Phillips, J.U. 1985. An annotated checklist of Cephalopoda from Australian waters. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Victoria 2: 21-36

Lu, C.C. & Reid, A.L. 1997. Two new species of cuttlefish from northwestern Australian waters with a redescription of Sepia sulcata Hoyle, 1885 (Sepiidae: Cephalopoda). Records of the Western Australian Museum 18(3): 277-310

Mangold-Wirz, K. 1963. Biologie des céphalopodes benthiques et nektoniques de la Mer Catalane. Vie et Milieu Suppl. 13: 1-285 pls 1-4

Pascual, E. 1978. Crecimiento y alimentacion de tres generaciones de Sepia officinalis en cultivo. Investigacion Pesquera 42: 421-442

Reid, A. 1998. A complete description of Sepia mira (Cotton 1932) (Cephalopoda: Sepiidae) from eastern Australia. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 119: 155-171

Reid, A. & Lu, C.C. 1998. A new Sepiella Gray, 1849 (Cephalopoda: Sepiidae) from northern Australia, with a redescription of Sepiella weberi Adam, 1939. The Beagle, Records of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory 14: 71-102

Reid, A.L. 2000. Australian cuttlefishes (Cephalopoda : Sepiidae): the 'doratosepion' species complex. Invertebrate Taxonomy 14: 1-76

Rochebrune, A.T. 1884. Etude monographique de la famille des Sepiadae. Bulletin de la Société Philomathique de Paris 7 8: 74-122 pls 3-6

Roeleveld, M.A. 1972. A review of the Sepiidae (Cephalopoda) of South Africa. Annals of the South African Museum 59: 191-313

Roeleveld, M.A. & Liltved, W.R. 1985. A new species of Sepia (Cephalopoda, Sepiidae) from South Africa. Annals of the South African Museum 96(1): 1-18

Roper, C.F.E. & Hochberg, F.G. 1988. Behavior and systematics of cephalopods from Lizard Island, Australia, based on color and body patterns. Malacologia 29(1): 153-193

Voss, G.L. 1963. Cephalopods of the Philippine Islands. United States National Museum Bulletin 234: 1-180


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
16-Jun-2022 CEPHALOPODA 15-May-2023 MODIFIED
12-Nov-2013 SEPIIDA 15-May-2023 MODIFIED Dr Julian Finn (NMV)
12-Feb-2010 (import)