Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cephalopod Intelligence Demonstrated off Coast of Indonesia

Screenshot via YouTube

You don’t have to have a backbone to be intelligent. An octopus made headlines earlier this year by disassembling part of its tank at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium in California.

It turns out that a curious two-spotted octopus had disassembled a water recycling valve and directed a tube to spew out of the tank for about 10 hours. Despite the octopus’s dexterity and intelligence, they are sometimes called “sea slugs”. Not very complimentary, if you ask me. Apparently, the star attraction of the aquarium's Kids' Corner octopus tank had swum to the top of the enclosure and disassembled the recycling system's valve, flooding the place with some 200 gallons of seawater.

Now, even more proof of cephalopod intelligence has been recorded by a team of researchers from Australia and the UK in the waters off the coast of Indonesia. The research was done over 10 years with over 500 man-diving hours recorded.

Scientists have found that octopuses can navigate their way through mazes, solve problems quickly and remember those solutions, at least for the short term. Still some scientists have been loathe crediting these creatures with the intelligence they demonstrate by the use of coconut shells.

"There is a fundamental difference between picking up a nearby object and putting it over your head as protection versus collecting, arranging, transporting (awkwardly), and assembling portable armor as required," Mark Norman, of the Museum Victoria in Australia and paper co-author, said in a prepared statement.

"The fact that the shell is carried for future use rather than as part of a specific task differentiates this behavior from other examples of object manipulation by octopuses, such as rocks being used to barricade lair entrances," the researchers wrote in their paper.

So, how do these octopods use these coconut shells exactly? Indonesian octopods have been recorded carrying and stacking coconut shells which they use as protection from predators. They carry the shells along with them; then, huddle up underneath them if attacked. They’ve even been observed keeping two halves of coconut shells so they can pull the two halves together to create a ball that they can sit safely inside. Researchers state that it's the first time they've seen an invertebrate using tools.

Researchers have dubbed the ungainly walk they use to transport the shells with them as “stilt walking”.

"While I have observed and videoed octopuses hiding in shells many times, I never expected to find an octopus that stacks multiple coconut shells and jogs across the seafloor carrying them," Julian Finn, of the Museum Victoria in Australia and also a co-author, said in a prepared statement.

"While I have observed and videoed octopuses hiding in shells many times, I never expected to find an octopus that stacks multiple coconut shells and jogs across the seafloor carrying them," Finn says. "I could tell that the octopus, busy manipulating coconut shells, was up to something, but I never expected it would pick up the stacked shells and run away," Finn said. "It was an extremely comical sight--I have never laughed so hard underwater.”

On a similar note, hermit crabs do not have their own shells. They use the discarded shells of others to crawl inside and use as their own home. They carry these shells around on their backs until they grow too big to use them anymore. At this time, they look for a new shell - trying on several until they find one that they feel fits well. Unfortunately, with all the garbage we dump into the ocean, sometimes a crab can make a mistake.

Image via Recyclart

The following three short videos show octopuses using coconut shells and other ocean garbage as protection and/or homes:

Via TreeHugger, Los Angeles Times and Scientific American


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Anonymous said...

One thing that looks sillier than the octopus jogging w/ coconut shells is a guy following w/ a camera.