The octopus may be smarter than you think. Australian scientists revealed the eight-tentacled species can carry coconut shells to use as armor — the first case of an invertebrate using tools.
Research biologist Julian Finn said he was “blown away” the first time he saw the fist-sized veined octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, pick up and scoot away with its portable protection along the sea bed.
“We don’t normally associate complex behaviors with invertebrates — with lower life forms I guess you could say,” Finn, from Museum Victoria, told AFP.
“And things like tool-use and complex behavior we generally associate with the higher vertebrates: humans, monkeys, a few birds, that kind of thing.
“This study, if anything, shows that these complex behaviors aren’t limited to us. They are actually employed by a wide range of animals.”
The use of tools is considered one of the defining elements of intelligence and, although originally considered only present in humans, has since been found in other primates, mammals and birds.
But this is the first time that the behavior has been observed in an invertebrate, according to an article co-authored by Finn and published in the US-based journal Current Biology.
Finn said when he first saw the octopus walk along awkwardly with its shell, he didn’t know whether it was simply a freak example of wacky underwater behavior by the animal whose closest relative is a snail.
“So over the 10-year period basically we observed about 20 octopuses and we would have seen about four different individuals carrying coconut shells over large distances,” he said of his research in Indonesia.
“There were lots that were buried with coconuts in the mud. But we saw four individuals actually pick them up and carry them, jog them across the sea floor carrying them under their bodies. It’s a good sight.”
Finn said the animals were slower and more vulnerable to predators while carrying the broken shells, which they later used as shelters.
“They are doing it for the later benefit and that’s what makes it different from an animal that picks up something and puts it over its head for the immediate benefit,” he said.
Other animals were likely to be discovered to exhibit similar behaviors, he said. (AFP)