A Moment of Science

Using Tools: Why Octopuses Are Carrying Coconut Shells

It seems the smartest member of the invertebrate world has learned how to use a tool

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Photo: Silke Baron (flickr)

Amphioctopus Marginatus eating a Crab. This kind of octopus has been known to use tools to complete tasks.

Chimps do it. Dolphins do it. Even crows that want to catch fish do it. But an octopus? Yes, it seems the smartest member of the invertebrate world has learned how to use a tool.

Clever just got more clever…

Octopuses have a reputation for being clever. They can figure out how to pull a plug out of a glass jar to get to food. They have been known to escape from holding tanks. They have the ability to navigate mazes and seem to be able to remember past experience. But tool use? That does seem incredible.

Tools, by definition, are objects that have no purpose until they are used for a specific function. Scientists have known for some time that octopuses make use of shells and other objects they find to hide from predators.

Carrying the shells

But observations of veined octopuses, known as Amphioctopus marginatus, off the coast of Indonesia surprised scientists. Not only do they use coconut shells to hide beneath, they carry the shells with them.

Carrying coconut shells is no small feat for these six-inch long animals. They have to tuck the shells under their middle and gingerly tiptoe across the sea floor with their arms. When they could swim much faster and avoid being spotted by predators with water jet propulsion…

Why carry the shell along?

Scientists believe octopuses are thinking ahead. Carrying coconuts slows them down and makes them easier to spot, but they always have somewhere to hide in the open ocean habitat where they live.

Will we see octopuses building penthouses out of coconut shells any time soon? That’s highly doubtful. But the veined octopus’s behavior is intriguing and this discovery will undoubtedly encourage future research on its intelligence.

Read More: Coconut-Carrying Octopus: Tool Use in an Invertebrate (ScienceDaily)

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