Sunday, December 27, 2009

Aussie scientists find coconut-carrying octopus!

Australian scientists have discovered an octopus in Indonesia that collects coconut shells for shelter - unusually sophisticated behavior that the researchers believe is the first evidence of tool use in an invertebrate animal.

The scientists filmed the veined octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, selecting halved coconut shells from the sea floor, emptying them out, carrying them under their bodies up to 65 feet (20 meters), and assembling two shells together to make a spherical hiding spot.

Julian Finn and Mark Norman of Museum Victoria in Melbourne observed the odd activity in four of the creatures during a series of dive trips to North Sulawesi and Bali (These two places are about as far apart north-south as you can get in Indonesia) between 1998 and 2008. Their findings were published Tuesday in the journal Current Biology. Read More>

What we know:

Octopus are very intelligent but "messy" creatures. The easiest way to find them is to look on the bottom for a "trash dump" of crab, clam, shrimp and mussel shells. This will generally be within a foot or two of the Octopus nest. In Washington State, the Giant Pacific Octopus (Octopus dolfleni) is the worlds largest Octopus. At the Seattle Aquarium, a maintenance worker used to use a flashlight at night to spot one of the octopus in the tank. After a few weeks, the octopus could recognize the worker day or night and express its displeasure by squirting ink and moving away at her approach. (no flashlight required). Off Alki Beach in Seattle WA, the Boeing Seahorse Diving Club "re-tasked" 8 old toilets into a photo circle in the late 60's. One of these toilets still had its seat attached. When an octopus was found near the toilet photo circle, it sped off, entered one of the toilets, and reached up and closed the lid!

The brain of the octopus is not in the big central sac containing it's organs & beak, but distributed from the central ring out and thru the arms. There is quite a bit of scientific dispute regarding the "intelligence" of the octopus. Some consider it about as "smart" as a lab rat, while others consider it on par with a higher mammal.

Whereas the article above would indicate that this is "unusual intelligent behaviour", there are crabs that find and carry their own "hats". These crustaceans, called sponge, collector and decorator crabs, carry things on their backs as camouflage. When sponges are in short supply, sponge crabs don whatever they can find. Hawaii's sponge crabs have been seen carrying rubber slippers and pieces of rope, wood and metal. If researchers offer nothing better to a captive sponge crab than a piece of paper, the crab will cut itself a neat hat and pin it in place with those needle like legs.

So, who is smarter? The sponge crab or the octopus? Is the behaviour of the Indonesian octopus unique or just unique to the observers?

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