December 14, 2009 @ 1:06 pm
Octopuses and other cephalopods have long been suspected to be more than just sentient. Evidence is mounting that they are highly intelligent and curious – the cognitive superstars of the invertebrates.
Rebecca Morelle reports for BBC News that scientists have observed octopuses digging up and using tools – coconut shell halves discarded by humans.
An octopus and its coconut-carrying antics have surprised scientists.
Underwater footage reveals that the creatures scoop up halved coconut shells before scampering away with them so they can later use them as shelters.
Writing in the journal Current Biology, the team says it is the first example of tool use in octopuses.
One of the researchers, Dr Julian Finn from Australia’s Museum Victoria, told BBC News: “I almost drowned laughing when I saw this the first time.
“He added: “I could tell it was going to do something, but I didn’t expect this – I didn’t expect it would pick up the shell and run away with it.”…
Even better is the longer video at Current Biology, where Dr Julian Finn and colleagues publish their latest results.
- Our protagonist octopus – call him or her Jamie – searches the ocean floor.
- Jamie finds and unearths a buried half coconut shell.
- Jamie picks up the shell between its legs… er, arms. (Picture yourself squatting on a beach ball and lifting it between your thighs.)
- Jamie skitters along the ocean floor in a stiff-legged run. (Try doing that with the beach ball and see how awkward you look.)
Octopus behavior highly adaptable
What’s fascinating is that octopuses are apparently adapting positively to human changes in their environment. Soft and meaty, octopuses must be ever vigilant for predators. Since they are in constant need of protection on the wide-open ocean floors where they live, it stands to reason that halved coconut shells are very useful.
But the thing to remember is that these half-shell shelters have been available for this purpose for just a millisecond in evolutionary time – only since humans started cleaving coconuts and discarding the shells.