By: Nazifa Islam
If you know much about Aristotle, you’ll know that he did not have a high opinion about octopuses. “The octopus is a stupid creature,” he wrote, “for it will approach a man’s hand if it be lowered in the water.”
Twenty-four centuries later, we realize how wrong Aristotle was to call them stupid.
The octopus continues to amaze scientists, which has led to many years of intensive research. Since they have long and short term memory, they can replicate and resolve problems in ways similar to humans. Many fishermen tell tales about octopuses climbing onto fishing boats looking for crabs. So next time you’re on the water, watch out!
That’s not the only thing they can do; they can also open containers, figure their way out of mazes, and break out of aquariums when searching for food. This sounds like something that we would do too … right? Especially when we’re hungry – when you want to eat, you gotta eat.
Knowing this, Oxford biologists wanted to test the intelligence of octopuses. They would show the animals two shapes and reward them with food for touching a certain one. The shapes were either a rectangle in a horizontal position and then the same rectangle rotated 90 degrees. Once they figured that out, they knew they could touch any rectangle. They quickly learned what they needed to learn.
Octopuses are also great at searching for food. With their ability to camouflage themselves, it allows them to hide from their prey or disguise themselves from potential predators. Marine biologist Roger Hanlon applauds octopuses for what he calls their ‘moving-rock trick’. This is where it will morph into a shape of a rock and then slowly move or “float” across an open space. It matches its speed to the motion of light in the nearby water so even though they’re in plain view, predators don’t realize it or attack. Intelligent and confident, wow!
They are extremely flexible and strong. As published in a National Geographic newsletter, their arms are composed of almost no bone or external skeleton, a structure known as muscular hydrostat. Since they don’t have bones and joints (unlike us), it allows for an infinite range of motion. Binyamin Hochner, a biologist at Hebrew University, was inspired by this observation has been studying octopuses and trying to create robotic arms similar to those of an octopus. This is because he and his colleagues are realizing the amount of freedom they have when their arms are not restricted with limbs.
So the next time you’re around an 8-armed creature, just know it can do so much more than just approach your hand when you lower it in the water. Stay tuned as research continues and we learn more about these amazingly smart animals! You may be surprised!