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Why is our workshop full of cuttlefish?

Cuttlefish are fascinating creatures. We recently learned something special about them, when the University of Cambridge published an article explaining how they “eat less for lunch when they know there’ll be shrimp for dinner”.

“When they know that shrimp—their favourite food—will be available in the evening, they eat fewer crabs during the day. This capacity to make decisions based on future expectations reveals complex cognitive abilities.”

Cuttlefish are cephalopods, which diverged from vertebrates “around 550 million years ago”. But they have a “remarkably similar” central nervous system to that of vertebrates, which empowers them with this advanced level of thinking.

Who cares? We’re locksmiths!

Well, cephalopods are actually important to a wide number of people. Football fans may remember Paul the Psychic Octopus, who ‘predicted’ the results of football matches during the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Then there’s the fact that octopuses and squid are delicious.

Anyone in possession of a parrot or other sharp-beaked bird, or indeed a tortoise, will know that cuttlefish bones are excellent tools to allow them to sharpen their beaks.

But folks in the locksmith trade have also found a use for teuthology (the study of cephalopods): we use cuttlefish bones every day of our lives.

They’re soft, but not too soft

Cuttlefish bones are like very soft stone, harder yet also softer than putty/plasticine. This property is hugely important, because it allows us to simulate a keyhole.

Picture this: a customer comes into our workshop with an unusual key. We have a stock of hundreds of different key blanks, but it’s not uncommon that we come across a key we don’t have. But we’re quite smart, at Metrolocks, and have a few tricks up our sleeve.

“I don’t have this exact blank,” I tell the customer, “but I might have something that will fit all the same.” I take the customer’s key, push it into the soft cuttlefish bone so that it leaves an imprint of what the keyhole looks like, and then put in the blank I suspect will fit. If it fits like a glove, then I know we have a winner.

Cuttlefish bones are such useful tools, that we have a large sack of the stuff in our office. We go through so much, partly because we take on a whole bunch of very obscure keys where the blanks are hard to get.

Intelligent in life, and useful in death. What a marvellous creature the cuttlefish is!

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