A recent study challenges traditional understandings of octopus behavior, revealing a complex and aggressive social life.
Octopuses have puzzled scientists for generations with their odd appearance and complex behavior. According to a report from NPR, however, a recent study reveals that the strange creatures actually interact with one another on a much deeper level than once believed.
The study, published in the journal Current Biology, focused on the behaviors of Octopus tetricus, known as the gloomy octopus. The mollusks were observed changing their skin color from red to black to intimidate their neighbors, as well as extending their eight arms and standing tall over a potential foe.
The study’s findings challenge the understanding that octopuses are solitary creatures. The gloomy octopus actually gathers in great numbers during the Australian summer in the shallow waters of Jervis Bay to feast on scallops and other invertebrates, and their interactions were truly magnificent to watch.
According to David Scheel from Alaska Pacific University, “There can be over a dozen octopuses or more at this site. Generally, during the Australian summer there are more and we see a lot of activity then.”
Local diver Matthew Lawrence first spotted the octopus party in Jarvis Bay, and his observations of their behavior caught the attention of Scheel, a marine biologist, and philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith. Together, the researchers sought to examine the way octopuses interact with one another, hoping to shed light into the complexity of their relationships.
The team recorded 52 hours of underwater footing showing 186 unique octopus interactions. Scientists were shocked by how aggressive some of the octopus interactions were, and also by how much attention the mollusks seemed to pay to one another.
“I took a look fairly early on at one sequence in which one octopus approaches another in a fairly menacing way. He gets all dark, stands up very tall, and the other octopus crouches down and turns very pale,” Scheel said.
A press release from Cell describing the recent study’s details can be found here.