5 Incredible Facts About Octopuses

Ever wished that you could morph into other animals, carry a brain in each arm, and slink down to slither through cracks of only a few centimeters? Let's talk about the eight-tentacled animal that can do all this and more.

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD,
April 25, 2016
Episode #190

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Most of an octopus’s neurons are instead found distributed in their tentacles. This suggests that individual tentacles can carry out tasks independently of one another and will still work if they get disconnected from the rest of the body. Since each tentacle can think for itself, different tentacles may even have different personalities, with some being more adventurous or risk averse than others.  

4. They Can Use Tools

My two-year-old is, thankfully, no match for a childproof jar of pills or cleaner. An octopus, however, can easily remove such a lid and has even been seen unscrewing a jar from the inside to let itself out. One octopus was spotted carrying two halves of a coconut across the sea floor, although whether or not that really counts as using a tool is up for debate since it was unclear what his plans were for the coconut.  

5. They Can Recognize Human Faces.

There have been anecdotal reports that octopuses can recognize individual people, even when they are in a crowd, for example by picking out the trainers that feed them. In an experiment meant to test just how far an octopus might carry this trick, two researchers (dressed alike) monitored the behavior of eight octopuses over two weeks. Twice a day, they would both check in on each octopus, but while one would feed them, the other would instead poke them with a sharp stick. 

The results were incredible: despite changing up the order of their visits and which person played the friendly vs nonfriendly roles for each octopus, the octopuses were able to recognize the researchers based on their faces after only a few days. When the “pokers” or less friendly researchers came by, the octopuses would generally move away, point their water jets toward the researcher, and even quicken their breathing. On the other hand, they often moved toward the researchers that had fed them in the past, and aimed their water jets away.

One theory on what gives octopuses their surprising intelligence is that they have been forced to evolve since losing their ancestral shell. Whatever the reason, we clearly are not done being surprised by the skills of these amazing animals.  

Until next time, this is Sabrina Stierwalt with Everyday Einstein’s Quick and Dirty Tips for helping you make sense of science. You can become a fan of Everyday Einstein on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, where I’m @QDTeinstein. If you have a question that you’d like to see on a future episode, send me an email at everydayeinstein@quickanddirtytips.com.


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