Planet Earth

Octoplay

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

Octopuses are the geniuses of the invertebrate world. They can navigate mazes, unscrew jars, and escape into neighboring tanks to feed. And now it seems that octopuses are even smart enough to have fun. Roland Anderson, a marine biologist at the Seattle Aquarium, and Jennifer Mather, an animal behaviorist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, were surprised to find that octopuses play. Birds and mammals engage in all sorts of play: cats bat at string; birds appear to soar for the sheer joy of it. Invertebrates, however, were thought to lack the sophistication to play, or as a scientist might define it, "to engage in repetitive behavior unrelated to food gathering or reproduction." Anderson had heard colleagues casually mention that octopuses seemed to like floating thermometers. "I happened to have a bottle of Tylenol that I was about done with, so we filled it with water and glued it shut," he says. When he put the pill bottle into a tank with an octopus, the octopus first brought the bottle to its mouth, in case it might be food. Then it gently pushed the bottle away with a squirt of water, directing it toward a current that brought it back toward the octopus. When the bottle returned, the octopus squirted it away again. One of the eight octopuses tested played with the bottle for nearly half an hour. Anderson says that octopuses will squirt water at objects that annoy them, "but then they blow quite hard." If that doesn't work, he says, the octopus might attack the object. That the octopuses repeatedly directed gentle squirts at the bottle, says Anderson, "is an indication that this might be play behavior."

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!

Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2022 Kalmbach Media Co.