Shifting Colors Of An Octopus May Hint At A Rich, Nasty Social Life

Jan 31, 2016

Photo credit: David Scheel/Current Biology

By Nell Greenfieldboyce

Some octopuses intimidate their neighbors by turning black, standing tall and looming over them threateningly, like an eight-armed Dracula.

That’s according to a study published Thursday that helps show that octopuses aren’t loners, contrary to what scientists long thought; some of the invertebrates have an exciting social life.

The study, in the journal Current Biology, focuses on one species, known as Octopus tetricus — the gloomy octopus — which gathers to munch on tasty scallops in the shallows of Jervis Bay, Australia.

“There can be over a dozen octopuses or more at this site,” says David Scheel of Alaska Pacific University. “Generally, during the Australian summer there are more and we see a lot of activity then.”

A local diver, Matthew Lawrence, first noticed there was a lot of octopus interaction going on there. His observations piqued the interest of Scheel, who is a marine biologist, and Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher who had been thinking about octopus consciousness.

The research team eventually recorded 52 hours of underwater video, showing 186 octopus interactions.


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6 comments on “Shifting Colors Of An Octopus May Hint At A Rich, Nasty Social Life

  • Interesting article. What gets me is why people would think octopuses wouldn’t have some sort of social interaction with their own species. People keep underestimating the intelligence of animals.



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  • There is a hypothesis that the octopus is an alien life form, or at least a different domain having evolved from a different root. The reasoning is that the genetics of the octopus are so strange and do not seem to relate to any other phyla! Interesting idea!!!



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  • SteveR
    Feb 3, 2016 at 10:09 am

    There is a hypothesis that the octopus is an alien life form, or at least a different domain having evolved from a different root. The reasoning is that the genetics of the octopus are so strange and do not seem to relate to any other phyla! Interesting idea!!!

    There really is no evidenced basis for this!

    Their evolutionary tree is well mapped with relationships with other Cephalopods and Molluscs.

    http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/taxa/inverts/mollusca/cephalopoda.php



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  • Ipse Dixit

    People keep underestimating the intelligence of animals.

    Yes, I thought the same thing when I read this article. Reminds me of when we were told that birds are paragons of monogamy. Total bullshit of course. I wonder if this related to the thinking that humans are complex, special and interesting, while “animals” are stupid, dull and primitive. There is no appreciation for the fact that we are animals! and the same principles operate in all of us.

    From the article:

    Until about 15 years ago, scientists believed that octopuses were pretty much asocial.
    “When they interacted, they either mated or ate each other,” says Crissy Huffard, a senior research technician at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. “That was the overriding idea.”

    But Huffard has done research on another octopus species that shows males display a black-and-white striped pattern when they’re in the presence of another individual. “And that tends to send the signal, ‘I’m male,’ ” she says. If the other octopus displays a similar body pattern, the male will be aggressive and fight. If not, then he’ll try to mate.

    How did they think it happened previously? Random mating with whoever happened to come along? They were just drifting along aimlessly and then happened to bump into each other?



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  • LaurieB
    Feb 3, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Until about 15 years ago, scientists believed that octopuses were pretty much asocial.

    I think this is just a statement of a lack of awareness of the number and diversity of species.

    @ my earlier link – There are about 17,000 named species of fossil cephalopods, compared to the 800 identified living species of cephalopods. Clearly the lineages of extinct taxa were prolific and diverse.

    The actual reported and quoted research, is on individual species. It is an error to try to generalise, unless wide ranging observations have been made confirming more widely shared trends.



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