Octopus Intelligence

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BBC News: “Octopus Snatches Coconut and RunsIt’s an amazing animal known for its intelligence and, now, for its tool-use: the chimpanzee? The dolphin? The crow? Not quite.

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The humble octopus becomes the latest animal to join the tool-using crowd, as video taken underwater shows the creatures using coconut shell halves as temporary shelters. Scientists documented Amphioctopus marginatus octopuses off the coast of Indonesia for nine years. Four clips of footage show octopuses retrieving halved coconuts (discarded by humans and washed into the sea) from soft mud. They then scampered up to 66 feet (20 m) away with the shells, using them for shelter.

The humble octopus becomes the latest animal to join the tool-using crowd.

Scientist Mark Norman of Museum Victoria noted, “It is amazing watching them excavate one of these shells. They probe their arms down to loosen the mud, then they rotate them out.” After “cleaning” the shells, the octopuses quickly escaped the soft mud, a getaway that Norman said “comes down to amazing dexterity and co-ordination of eight arms and several hundred suckers.”

Also impressive is how the shells are used. BBC News reports, “If they just have one half, they simply turn it over and hide underneath. But if they are lucky enough to have retrieved two halves, they assemble them back into the original closed coconut form and sneak inside.” The shells are valuable because the seabed offers few other hiding spots. A National Geographic News article (with remarkable video) reports that the octopuses would even walk around while holding the shells underneath them.

University of Exeter ecologist Tom Tregenza, commenting on the news, added, “[Octopuses have] been shown to be able to solve simple puzzles, there is the mimic octopus [sic], which has a range of different species that it can mimic, and now there is this tool use. They do things which, normally, you’d only expect vertebrates to do.” These octopuses’ tool-use reminds us that it isn’t only creatures like chimpanzees and gorillas—supposedly our close evolutionary relatives—that can use tools. God designed each organism with the intelligence and capabilities appropriate for its habitat.

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