The Cosmic Web

Octopuses Live in Underwater Cities and Other Recent Surprises

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Octopuses continue to astound scientists and people around the world. Although they are mollusks, they are extraordinary in every way. For example, they have a larger brain for their body size than all animals except birds and mammals.

There is evidence they use tools and solve complex problems with exceptional intelligence. However, octopus and squid evolved apart from other intelligent animals, routinely editing their RNA in some species. 

Interestingly, octopuses can rewrite codes for proteins in their neurons, probably contributing to their unusual intelligence. Octopus and squid genetic divergence is so unusual that scientists have speculated if their genes could have been “extraterrestrial imports” millions of years ago. The more we learn, the more alien they seem to be.

Recently, scientists discovered octopuses sense light with their arms. So, when they extend one of their limbs into a crevice, they can react quickly to withdraw it from danger. However, scientists have no idea how they seem to feel the light on their sucker-covered arms. Recently, scientists also discovered their suckers can detect chemicals, enabling them to taste by touching. 

Octopuses of Octopolis and Octlantis

The discovery of underwater octopus “cities” suggest octopuses are more social than previously known. In the past, suggesting octopus were anything other than antisocial would be met with skepticism.

The Gloomy Octopus City of Octopolis

In 2009, researcher Peter Godfrey-Smith named Octopolis, an octopus colony in Jervis Bay off Australia’s east coast. Near a manmade structure, a group of up to 16 common Sydney octopuses (Octopus tetricus, also called gloomy octopus ) gathered in dens. The growing city is made up of thousands of shells discarded after octopus meals. 

The Octopolis study may be the first published evidence the cephalopods communicate using colorful signals during combative social interactions, reported Newsweek.

The City of Octlantis

Then, about eight years later, the researchers found another octopus city dubbed Octantis. The city of about 15 gloomy octopuses is also in Jervis Bay and is made up of thousands of discarded shells. Using the clam and scallop shells, the octopuses sculpted dens, which scientists compared to environmental engineering.

Although generally loners, meeting only to mate, the octopuses were coming together around an abundant shellfish food source. According to Quartz, the citizens of Octlantis were seen “congregating, communicating, dwelling together, and even evicting each other from dens.” It was all a surprise to the international team of marine biologists.

For some reason, male octopuses were spending lots of time chasing each other out of dens. Possibly, the octopuses were coming together due to the abundant food and were only slowly adapting to more social conditions over many generations.

It’s possible the researchers were witnessing the early beginnings of a sort of “octopus cultural evolution,” suggests Discover.  In the meantime, octopuses have become model organisms for scientists in studying the evolution of our own intelligence and sociality. 

So far, a small tangerine-sized species, Octopus chierchiae, from Central America is the leading candidate for study. The common name is the the lesser Pacific striped octopus. Studying the octopuses could lead to insights into fundamental biology and biomedical engineering advances reports Scientific American.

Related: Antarctic Seals Wearing Sensors Help Scientists Study ‘Doomsday Glacier’

Get a peek at Octlantis from Tech Insider:

Octopus Bonding with Humans

Recently, the Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, explored the friendship between a wild octopus and diver, Craig Foster. The filmmaker and naturalist shares an incredible bond with the alien cephalopod encountered multiple times in the kelp forest of South Africa’s Cape of Storms.

Memorable scenes feature the octopus wearing a suit made of shells to hide from sharks. In another scene, it must use all its wits to avoid death, climbing on a hungry pajama shark’s back. 

At one point, Foster shares a tender underwater embrace with the creature, hard to mistake as anything other than a bond. Although the documentary comes across as emotive rather than scientific, it challenges viewers to see octopuses as capable of feelings.

In the same way, Dame Jane Goodall challenges scientists to have empathy for primates.

“She’s more than just a curiosity of a pet. She’s a wild animal, but she’s this incredible teacher,” said Foster. 

Although it might seem extraordinary, the octopus taught Foster a profound lesson when searching for meaning in his life.

“She taught me that nature and human beings are woven with the same thread, with the same cloth, the same system. We’re not separate, and we need each other in order to survive on this planet,” said Foster.

Although he learned a great deal about octopuses, he says there is much more to learn. Perhaps, they are also curious and learning about us?

Related: Adolescent Tyrannosaurus rexes made life hell for prey that could escape slower adults

See the trailer from Netflix:

Featured image: Octopus by InsaPictures via PixabayPixabay License

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