Daily Archives: December 15, 2009

Invertebrates Using Tools! Octopus Coconut Carrying Behavior

Okay, I know this has nothing to do with insects, but octopusses ARE aquatic and they ARE invertebrates (not to mention they are completely fabulous), so I just had to share this news story briefly before I post my next insect entry.  I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for octopusses and this discovery reminds me of just how amazing these animals really are.

octopus in coconut

Veined octopus hiding in coconut halves. Photo from nationalgeographic.com.

Scientists have discovered many wonderful behaviors in octopusses, but a team of marine biologists, led by Australian researcher Julian Finn, recently came across a species of octopus that does an amazing thing: it uses tools!  In a paper published today in the journal Current Biology, the researchers reported their observations of the veined octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus) of Indonesia.   This species digs up halved coconut shells from the seafloor, then carries them around by suctioning them to the bottom of their bodies and walking on the tips of their tentacles.  This would be a fun behavior even if that was all they did.  However, after wandering across the seafloor with the coconuts, the octopusses upended the shells they carried and climbed underneath them, using them as hiding places. Some even pulled two halves together, completely enclosing themselves inside (see photo)!  This would be an interesting behavior regardless of the greater implications, but it’s even more exciting when you consider that few invertebrates have been observed using tools.  Because the octopusses are carrying the coconuts with them deliberately and then using them, the research team believes that this is a clear demonstration of tool use by an invertebrate.

I think this is an amazing finding, so I hope you’ll watch the video the researchers made available.  It’s only a couple of minutes long and it’s well worth the time!

There is also a great story about the finding on the NPR website that has some more pictures.  It can be found here:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/12/091214-octopus-carries-coconuts-coconut-carrying.html

Discoveries like this remind me of why it is great to be a biologist and how amazing nature really is.  Ultimately, what’s not to love about a coconut-carrying octopus?  :)

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