After being analyzed more carefully, octopus behavior has stunned experts with undeniable evidence of social life, thus disproving long-held beliefs that these animals are withdrawn and solitary at all times.
The staggering findings, featured in the journal Current Biology, were based on research coordinated by David Scheel, professor of marine biology at Alaska Pacific University.
In an unprecedented study, the scientist and his colleagues observed several common Sydney octopuses (scientifically known as octopus tetricus, and more humorously referred to as gloomy octopuses).
The cephalopod mollusks had been inhabiting the coral reefs and ocean floor from Australia’s Jervis Bay Marine Park, and biologists discovered that the marine creatures actually have a surprisingly active social life.
In total, 186 interactions, as well as over 500 distinct actions were identified among the group members as they were filmed underwater.
One interesting observation in this octopus behavior study was that the Sydney octopuses alter their hue in order to signal their intentions to other fellow mollusks.
Previously, it had been believed that octopuses only switch their coloring in order to camouflage themselves and remain out of sight when potential predators are lurking nearby.
Now, it appears that they also change the shade in order to interact with each other, and communicate more easily. This in turn either results in open confrontations, or simply shows a hostile attitude, without spurring the animals to action.
More precisely, when preparing to launch an attack, the octopus turns darker, but if its target becomes lighter, no actual conflict between the two ensues, because the pale octopus immediately swims away.
However, if the intended victim also changes its coloring to a duskier tint, then this suggests that the octopus has decided not to be intimated, and will promptly launch a counteroffensive against its attacker.
Basically, the rapid transformations that the aquatic creatures undergo clearly reveals whether they will take the challenge launched by an intruder breaching their territory, or if they will simply retreat, in order to be safe from harm’s way.
In addition, octopuses reveal their plans and intentions through their body language, certain postures and gestures being indicative of a certain action.
For example, before a particular cephalopod attempts to ambush another member of its group, it engages in deimatic behavior, by stretching its arms, standing taller and lifting its mantle, in order to appear as large and menacing as possible.
In response, the octopus that is about to be attacked sometimes huddles on the ocean floor, thus revealing that it wishes to retreat and avoid a confrontation.
It’s not the first time that researches have identified such octopus behavior, but prior theories had suggested that the invertebrates were adopting higher stances just in order to observe their surroundings more carefully.
Now it has been confirmed that the gestures have a social implication, either defusing conflict or signalling willingness to actively engage in it.
Researchers have also discovered other body language elements whose meaning they are still trying to comprehend. The most common involves two octopuses extending their arms towards each other; this may be indicative of some sort of bonding, or it may have a completely different symbolism altogether.
Following these recent discoveries, Tamar Gutnik from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has praised study authors for investigating an area that had benefited from so little attention until now.
As Gutnik argued, it’s high time we abandoned preconceptions about octopus behavior, misleading us into believing that these mollusks are completely asocial and solitary.
It may be that some species of this kind are in fact extremely social, constantly interacting with each other and communicating in their own special ways.
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