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Old cuttlefish have a remarkable memory

Researchers recently discovered an extremely surprising fact about the common cuttlefish (Sepia officialis). Unlike any other known animal, cuttlefish are able to retain sharp memories of specific events, even in their old age. 

In a study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers from the University of Cambridge, the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, and the University of Caen argue that cuttlefish can remember with extreme precision what, where, and when specific events happened – right up until their last few days of life.

“Cuttlefish can remember what they ate, where and when, and use this to guide their feeding decisions in the future. What’s surprising is that they don’t lose this ability with age, despite showing other signs of aging like loss of muscle function and appetite,” wrote study lead author Dr. Alexandra Schnell from the University of Cambridge.

In humans, this capacity for episodic memory gradually wanes with age. This is caused by the deterioration of the hippocampus, a part of the brain which plays a significant role in learning and memory. 

However, the brain structure of cuttlefish is significantly different from ours. The fish do not have a hippocampus, and use instead their vertical lobe to deal with learning and memory processes. Luckily for them, this brain area does not seem to deteriorate until the last two to three days of their lives.

But why would such an amazing capacity evolve in the cuttlefish in the first place? Why would they need to remember until the day they die all the details of last week’s dinner? 

“We think this ability might help cuttlefish in the wild to remember who they mated with, so they don’t go back to the same partner,” explained Dr. Schnell. 

Since cuttlefish breed only towards the end of their relatively brief lives (of about two years), exact memories regarding when, where, and with whom they mated could ensure that they will have as many partners as possible, thus spreading their genes widely.

Although such behavior would probably be frowned upon by more morally-bent animal species such as Homo sapiens, it certainly gave rise to an extraordinary adaptation that has never been met before in the animal kingdom.      

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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