information on the biology of species and the ecology of habitats found around the coasts and seas of the British Isles

Common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis)

Distribution data supplied by the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS). To interrogate UK data visit the NBN Atlas.



Body relatively broad and somewhat flattened so as to be oval in cross section. Sepia officinalis has a mantle length of up to 45 cm. Paired fins run from behind the head to the tip of the body. Individuals are capable of very rapid colour change, especially when threatened; the animal may also take the colour or patterning of its background.

Recorded distribution in Britain and Ireland

Found mainly on southern and western coasts of Britain.

Global distribution

Eastern Atlantic; from the Baltic and North Seas to South Africa; Mediterranean Sea.


Found on sandy and muddy substrata, shallow sublittoral and offshore to 200 m, but typically to 100 m depth.

Depth range


Identifying features

  • Tentacular club with 5 or 6 suckers in each transverse row, the median ones moderately enlarged.
  • Cuttlebone anteriorly and posteriorly rounded, with parallel sides.
  • Colour - very variable; may be black- brown, striped or mottled on dorsal surface, paler to white on ventral surface.

Additional information

  • Males larger than females, and slightly more frequent (Dunn, 1999).
  • Sepia elegans is smaller, has 2 rows of suckers on arms and has an acute lobe on its dorsal mantle margin.

Listed by

- none -

Further information sources

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Biology review


AuthorityLinnaeus, 1758
Recent Synonyms


Typical abundanceModerate density
Male size range10-45cm
Male size at maturity10cm
Female size range14cm
Female size at maturity
Growth form
Growth rate1.4-3.3cm/month
Body flexibilityNot relevant
Characteristic feeding methodPredator
Diet/food source
Typically feeds onBrachyuran crabs and demersal fish (gobiids and syngnathids), with minor amounts of amphipods and little cannibalism.
Environmental position

Doridicola longicauda (Claus 1860)

Is the species harmful?Yes

Saliva contains cephalotoxin which induces paralysis and immobilizes prey.

Biology information

  • Size measured is dorsal mantle length.
  • Growth rates are exponential during juvenile development, becoming linear during adulthood (Challier et al., 2005). Growth during winter in colder offshore waters slows or halts entirely (Dunn, 1999).
  • Adult Sepia officinalis detect prey, environment and conspecifics using chemical, as well as visual and tactile, stimuli (Boal & Golden, 1999).
  • Prey of adult Sepia officinalis varies with body size- larger individuals eat more teleost fish (mostly gobies) and fewer crustaceans, with the exception of portunid crabs, which are most often eaten by the largest cuttlefish adults (Castro & Guerra, 1990). Prey size is also selective, with adult Sepia officinalis choosing fish 25-80% and crabs 20-40% of their mantle length (Blanc et al., 1999)
  • Predators of adult cuttlefish include sharks, bream, demersal fish and other, larger cuttlefish (Roper et al., 1984).

Habitat preferences

Physiographic preferencesOpen coast, Sea loch / Sea lough, Ria / Voe, Estuary
Biological zone preferencesLower circalittoral, Lower infralittoral, Sublittoral fringe, Upper circalittoral, Upper infralittoral
Substratum / habitat preferencesCoarse clean sand, Fine clean sand, Mud, Muddy sand, Sandy mud
Tidal strength preferencesNo information
Wave exposure preferences
Salinity preferencesVariable (18-40 psu)
Depth range0-200m
Other preferencesNo text entered
Migration PatternSeasonal (reproduction)

Habitat Information

  • Migration inshore in spring and summer, seeking warmer water conditions suitable for spawning.
  • Following spawning season, migration into deeper, offshore areas occurs beginning in October (Dunn, 1999; Royer et al., 2006).
  • The total distance migrated in each season may exceed 100 km (du Sel & Daguzan, 1997).

Life history

Adult characteristics

Reproductive typeGonochoristic (dioecious)
Reproductive frequency Semelparous / monotely
Fecundity (number of eggs)100-1,000
Generation time1-2 years
Age at maturity13-16 months
SeasonMarch - July
Life span1-2 years

Larval characteristics

Larval/propagule type-
Larval/juvenile development See additional information
Duration of larval stageNot relevant
Larval dispersal potential No information
Larval settlement period

Life history information

  • Although reproduction is usually terminal in their 2nd year, a few individuals have been reported to live to 3 years old, possibly reproducing a second time (Mattacola et al., 1984).
  • A 2-year lifespan and variable growth rates among individuals is supported by isotopic analysis of growth rings in cuttlebones (Bettencourt & Guerra, 1999).
  • Mature males and large females of Sepia officinalis are the first to migrate inshore to spawning grounds in March and April with spawning occurring from March to July. The eggs are attached in clusters to seaweeds, seagrass, debris, shells and other substrata. Reaching a size of up to 2 cm prior to hatching (Gutowska & Melzner, 2009), the eggs are one of the largest among cephalods (Challier et al., 2005). Hatching may begin in May, but reaches its peak in July and August (Challier et al., 2002). Juveniles will stay in breeding grounds until 60 to 120 days old, whereupon they join adults in offshore, winter grounds, with those hatching later in the summer recruiting later in the autumn (Blanc & Daguzan, 1999; Challier et al., 2002). Upon returning to spawning grounds in the spring, juveniles will exhibit some sexual maturity, but will not be fully mature until 13 (males) or 14 - 16 months of age (Dunn, 1999).

Sensitivity reviewHow is sensitivity assessed?

Physical pressures

Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low
The species is highly mobile and therefore unlikely to be affected by substratum loss since it can relocate to more favorable conditions.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low
The species is fast moving and therefore unlikely to be affected by smothering since it can relocate to more favorable conditions.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low
The species is highly mobile and therefore unlikely to be affected by substratum loss since it can relocate to more favorable conditions.
No information
Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Low
The species is fast moving and remains submerged at all times. Therefore desiccation is unlikely to affect this species.
Not relevant Not relevant Not relevant Low
The species does not have an emergence regime as it is fast moving and will avoid emergence.
No information
No information No information Not sensitive Very low
No information
No information High Low Low
The effects of heightened temperature are insufficiently studied. However, the short life span of this species, its annual semelparity and high fecundity means that recovery may take a year.
Tolerant Very high No information Moderate
Decreases in temperature are experienced on an annual basis as the species overwinters in colder, deeper offshore waters. Growth and calcification may be reduced or halted altogether during this period, but hypothermia-related mortality is unknown and recovery occurs within six months when spring migrations return the cuttlefish to the warmer, inshore waters of its spawning and nursery area (Palmegiano & D'Apote, 1983).
Low Immediate Not sensitive Low
Increased turbidity may interfere with the ability to find food and, in breeding grounds, a mate. Therefore, survivorship and reproductive success of this species may be reduced. However, recovery could be immediate as the animal is highly mobile and may relocate to a more favorable area.
No information
Intermediate High Low Low
In rough weather cuttlebones are often found washed up on beaches. This may mean that some of the population are destroyed when wave exposure increases. However, the species is sufficiently mobile to be able to move to a new area if conditions are unfavourable. The short life span of this species, its annual semelparity and its high fecundity suggest that recovery may take up to a year.
No information
Intermediate Immediate Not sensitive Low
The species is disturbed by noise and will swim away when it senses any vibrations. Viability of the species may be reduced if feeding or breeding periods are disrupted. However, the animal could relocate to an area where noise is decreased and therefore recovery would be immediate.
Low Immediate Not sensitive Low
The species has well developed eyes so can detect movement sufficiently well to be susceptible to disturbance. However, the species will swim away when any presence threatens so recovery is immediate.
High High Very Low Moderate
Individuals observed after mating and after entanglement in nets typically have soft tissue damage that suggests susceptibility to abrasive damage. The effect of injury on individual survivorship is unknown. However, the short life span of this species, its annual reproduction and its high fecundity means that population recovery from such effects should occur after a year.
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Moderate
The species is highly mobile and therefore will not be affected by displacement.

Chemical pressures

Tolerant No information Low
Danis et al. (2005) found juveniles capable of sequestering large amounts of PCBs through food items or, to a greater extent, from ambient seawater. Since increased mortality due to PCB uptake is not mentioned, the species is assumed to be tolerant of high PCB levels and thus capable of contributing to bioaccumulation in cuttlefish predators.
Heavy metal contamination
Low High Low Moderate
The digestive glands of cephalopods concentrate high levels of heavy metals including Ag, Cd, Co, Cr Pb, Zn and Cu, which are considered to be potential pollutants and toxic (Miramand & Bentley, 1992). This could affect the viability of the species, although effects on reproduction are unknown. The short life span of this species, annual reproduction and its high fecundity suggests that recovery may take a year.
Hydrocarbon contamination
No information No information No information Not relevant
Radionuclide contamination
No information No information No information Not relevant
Changes in nutrient levels
No information No information No information Not relevant
No information No information Low Not relevant
No information High No information Low
The effects of decreased salinity are unknown for adults but normal embryonic development requires salinities above 24 ppt (Paulij et al., 1990). However, adults are sufficiently mobile to be able to move to a new area if conditions are unfavourable. The short life span of this species, an annual reproductive cycle and its high fecundity means that recovery should take a year.
Intermediate High Low High
Adults can recover from short-term exposure to pO2 levels as low as 30 mmHg and can survive indefinitely at 70 mmHg (Johansen et al., 1982). The species is sufficiently mobile to relocate if conditions are unfavourable. The annual semelparity of this species and its high fecundity means that recovery may take a year.

Biological pressures

No information No information Very Low Low
Ovoid cells in tissue of branchial hearts are known to attack bacterial toxins and debris and detoxify the hemolymph (Beuerlin & Schipp, 1998). As a result, sensitivity to microbial infection is likely to be low, although tolerance and recoverability are unknown.
No information No information No information Not relevant
Intermediate High Low Low
Around 18 000 tonnes are fished from offshore winter grounds in the English Channel each year, on average (Denis & Robin, 2001). Although stock management has not been implemented, the high fecundity and short lifespan of this species suggest recovery should be high, provided sufficient numbers of adults remain to return to inshore spawning grounds. However, additional extraction pressures exist in inshore waters, reducing their recoverability. In inshore French waters, Sepia officinalis is harvested by traps that selectively remove males prior to reproduction, trawls that capture a high percentage of females and juveniles and nets that capture an even ratio of adult males and females (du Sel et al., 1997).
Tolerant Not relevant Not sensitive Low
Extraction of another species will not affect this species as their prey is very varied and they have no dependence on one particular species.

Additional information

The effects of acidification and increased pCO2 has been studied by Dunn (1999), who found that aragonite calcification of the cuttlebone was not affected by low pH and/or high pCO2 in ambient seawater. Likewise, Gutowska et al. (2008) found that calcification and growth rate of juvenile Sepia officinalis was not affected by an 8-fold increase in pCO2 over a 6 week period. The tolerance of Sepia officinalis to increased ocean acidification is thus predicted to be high with a moderate level of evidence, suggesting insensitivity to these factors.

Importance review


- no data -



Importance information

Aquaculture has been tried experimentally and appears promising for large-scale ventures.
Cuttlebone used in pet shop trade.


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This review can be cited as:

Wilson, E. 2008. Sepia officinalis Common cuttlefish. In Tyler-Walters H. and Hiscock K. (eds) Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Reviews, [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. [cited 23-10-2018]. Available from:

Last Updated: 24/04/2008