How much do you know about octopi? Well, that’s not enough!

I woke up this morning, and wondered about how intelligent octopi are. You know, the way you do. So I found out, and wow!

They have large brains, but because they are molluscs, so are related to clams, oysters and snails, researchers doubted for a long time that their brains were anything but an accident of nature.

Ha! Proponents of Intelligent Design, cry into your wheaties! It was no accident!

Octopus brains are larger, compared to body size, than the brains of reptiles and amphibians. There are large brain areas devoted to storing learned information. Since an octopus’s lifespan is only 2-5 years, depending on species, their ability to learn seems hampered only by their own mortality. The brain is encased in a cartilege cranium.

Strange for animals that are considered to be solitary creatures, octopi are capable of observational learning. They can watch what another octopus does (pick up a red ball and get food, as opposed to getting no food when they grab a white ball), and learn from it!

Captive octopi have been observed to be able to screw the lids off jars, either to eat what’s inside, or just because they can. Some research has shown that they play (engage in repetitive behaviour using a foreign object, for reasons other than feeding or protection). In the Seattle aquarium was one octopus that volunteers avoided feeding, as she would reach up and try to pull the volunteer down into the tank! (Other octopi did not engage in this behaviour)

Also, they use several strategies to eat their prey. They will pry open bivalves with weaker muscles holding their shells, simply smash ones with weaker shells, and drill into and inject a neuromuscular toxin called cephalotoxin, into bivalves with strong muscles, then simply pry them apart once they’re paralyzed.

In addition to their large brains, more than two thirds of their neurons are in the nerve cords which stretch down their arms. Researchers believe that this is because they need to move very quickly in attaining prey, and because they can change colour to match their surroundings or indicate distress.

Octopi are famed escape artists and even ‘escape proof’ tanks prove no problem for them. They think and worry at a problem like “How do I get out of here?” Eventually, aquarium workers will come in in the morning to find the octopus has somehow gotten out of its tank and gone into the next one, where it has eaten its fill of crabs, clams, or small fish.

I want to meet an octopus. They are my new favourite things!

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