Octopuses, which are remarkably intelligent marine creatures, generally avoid contact with other animals and are thought to live solitary lives.

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However, the situation is quite different 50 feet below in Australia’s Jervis Bay. This site, famously known as Octopolis, is home to a close-knit community of gloomy octopuses, or common Sydney octopuses (Octopus tetricus). Octopuses live in high densities on a large pile of discarded shells, thereby providing scientists with an excellent opportunity to study social interaction among cephalopods.

Related: Octopus trash activity signals deep sea trouble

The octopuses that live here typically mate and fight. However, when they appeared to hurl objects at each other, it piqued the interest of animal behavior experts. 

The throwing behavior

Using underwater cameras, researchers discovered that wild octopuses deliberately toss things at each other. After watching hours of footage, the research team discovered 102 moments of debris throwing in a group of about 10 octopuses. They were caught red-handed throwing shells, silt, algae and other debris at rivals who tried to intrude on their dens. 

“The throwing of objects is an uncommon behavior in animals,” according to the research paper published in the journal PLoS One.

Octopuses gathered material in their arms before flinging it in the direction of their nearest target through a powerful jet of water. They use fleshy siphons — a tubular structure — to release water out of their bodies. Using this technique, they can propel materials up to several body lengths away.

This new research is led by Peter Godfrey-Smith from the University of Sydney. The researchers observed this unusual behavior from 2015 to 2016. 

An octopus hanging on the side of a coral

The reasons  

The team noticed something unusual while analyzing the recordings: the octopuses’ color changed. Octopuses hone the ability to change the color of their skin to camouflage or communicate. 

Animal behavior researchers say that the dark skin pattern is generally linked to aggression. In this study, it was found that dark-colored individuals hurled objects with greater force with the aim of hitting the desired target, i.e., another octopus. The ones hit by the debris reacted by “ducking or raising their arms in the direction of the thrower,” as per the press release

“Throwing with aiming has sometimes been seen as distinctively human, and it probably does have an important role in hominin evolution. But throwing at a target has also been observed in some non-human primates (especially chimps and capuchins), elephants, mongooses and birds,” reveals the paper. 

Researchers say it’s difficult to determine the exact intent, but they believe octopuses do it on purpose as “they had to move their siphon into an unusual position.”

One reason could be a lack of space — octopuses are plentiful in Jervis Bay. This confines reclusive animals to small spaces, forcing them to defend their territory. Although the creatures are boneless, they can easily squeeze into small spaces. 

The footage showcased octopuses throwing food scraps out of their dens, shooting shells to scare away pesky intruders like fish, and even hurling at an underwater camera placed near their territory. The team found that shells were the most commonly thrown object overall — with 55 recorded instances.

Females throw more objects 

Approximately 17% of flings from different types of object-throwing behavior were successful in hitting the other target octopuses.

This behavior was observed in both sexes, but females exhibited 66% of it. Tossing shells and blasting silt at potential mates may be how females tell males they aren’t interested — at least in some cases. Or it could be also to safeguard their eggs.

For instance, the recording showed a female octopus target a male neighbor with silt five times in about four hours after the male made several failed attempts to mate with her. Another female threw 17 objects in 60 minutes, striking at least nine other octopuses. 

Scientists have long been fascinated by enigmatic octopuses. Interestingly, some fringe theories also suggest that they could be aliens. As crazy as it may sound, Octopus has nine brains, three hearts and blue blood. 

These eight-legged sea creatures exhibit inquisitive behavior. Studies have revealed that their brains share some similarities with humans. With all of its brainpower, the octopus exhibits many signs of intelligence and can learn how to perform problem-solving tasks such as solving mazes or breaking out of a locked container.

Scientists studying the brains of octopuses have found that, like humans, they appear to have distinct short and long-term memory. This enables them to recognize individual people just by their sight. 

Animal behavior is peculiar, and octopuses truly stand out from the crowd! But even these strange creatures must be understood. Thanks to numerous scientific observations, which continue to add to our understanding of wildlife behavior. And this new fascinating study brings us one step closer to understanding the interesting quirks of octopuses and how they interact with other beings.

Via PLoS One

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