I for one welcome our future cephalopod overlords!


Cool new report in Current Biology, Defensive tool use in a coconut-carrying octopus:

The use of tools has become a benchmark for cognitive sophistication. Originally regarded as a defining feature of our species, tool-use behaviours have subsequently been revealed in other primates and a growing spectrum of mammals and birds...Among invertebrates, however, the acquisition of items that are deployed later has not previously been reported. We repeatedly observed soft-sediment dwelling octopuses carrying around coconut shell halves, assembling them as a shelter only when needed. Whilst being carried, the shells offer no protection and place a requirement on the carrier to use a novel and cumbersome form of locomotion -- 'stilt-walking'.

No surprise that when we are looking to a violation of an old "human exceptional" character (though tool-use seems to have been violated a fair amount now by any interpretation) that the cephalopod would step up to the plate. I've heard of weird behavior by octopuses in laboratories which begs to be anthropomorphized, but no one denies that this is one taxa which has some brains. Who says you need a notochord to be a "higher animal"? Anyone who's read a fair amount of science fiction also is aware that cephalopods are one of the more exotic, but still frequent, candidate earth lineages which might potentially rise to sapience. Fore all the aquatic species who have the glimmer of intelligence cybernetics might offer up some potential avenues of freedom and leveling the playing field with the terrestrials.

Citation: Defensive tool use in a coconut-carrying octopus, Finn, Julian K.; Tregenza, Tom; Norman, Mark D. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.10.052 (volume 19 issue 23 pp.R1069 - R1070)


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Considering the genetic closeness of cephalopods and bivalves, cephalopod IQ poses a sharp challenge to certain kinds of genetic ways of thinking about IQ, or really traits in general -- this evidence seems to favor convergence ways of thinking.

Though maybe we'll find smart clams someday. Scientologists believe that all human problems derive from clam thinking parasitizing our brains (engrams), so maybe that's where to look.

On the convergence track, at first sight mobility, keen vision, and versatile "hands" seem to be the deciders for IQ.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 15 Dec 2009 #permalink

What is the nearest common octopus-human ancestor? Per wiki it would seem to be the Urbilaterian, which is a theoretical construction not attested in the fossil record.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 15 Dec 2009 #permalink

Fascinating. I can't help wondering if this is a skill that is passed on, and what else they might come up with...

Anyone who's read a fair amount of science fiction also is aware that cephalopods are one of the more exotic, but still frequent, candidate earth lineages which might potentially rise to sapience.

Obligatory link: Sheena 5 (by Stephen Baxter, short story)

I deduce from this that cephalopods are as intelligent as post-missionary hula dancers.

Digression, but in my misspent youth I used to go spearing squid from the prow of a boat at night, using a light and a thing like a long-shafted multi-pronged spear, and those little buggers are smart, and very fast - much faster than fish over a short distance. Jet propulsion. Taste good, though.

By Sandgroper (not verified) on 15 Dec 2009 #permalink

My favorite cephalopod story involves scientists trying to figure out why their crabs kept disappearing from a fish tank. They finally set up a video camera, and found that an octopus was hauling itself out of another tank at night, crawling across the floor, climbing into the crab tank, eating a crab, then returning home. (It's been a while since I read this, and in retrospect maybe it was something else rather than crabs, unless an octopus would also consume the shell?).

I also remember a long article about personality in animals, including octopuses. Apparently individual octopuses can have very distinct personalities, e.g. bold/shy, aggressive/friendly, inquisitive/incurious etc.

Cephalopods are the most alien intelligent life on the planet. Maybe if we treat them kindly we will be spared during Cthulhu's inevitable return. (And in this context I think being spared means being devoured quickly instead of being tortured, driven mad, and then devoured.)

Intelligent perhaps, but with a very limited lifespan. Most Cephalopods live only a year or two, some only as long as 6 months, and all of them die after reproduction, so seems like a waste of brains...