20 January 2011

Smart octopi go on walkabout

Posted by vivienne

A lock on top of an octopus tank

Did you know octopi can climb out aquarium tanks, travel across the room, eat the fish in another tank and return to their tank before they’re caught? Neither did I. Sounds incredible, but North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher has locks on the top of their octopus tanks (see picture) to stop their common octopi popping out on a fishing expedition. You can see how far the octopus would need to crawl over a concrete floor to get to another tank on the second picture (the green arrow shows the octopus tank and the red arrow shows a fish tank).

When I heard this story on a ‘backstage’ tour of Fort Fisher aquarium, I thought ‘yeah, right…’ I was sceptical, especially because the aquarium staffer showing us around didn’t know many details, e.g. how many times had this happened? Which fish tanks did the octopus visit? Did they go on walkabout at night when there were no staff around? And so on.

It may sound unbelievable, but it’s probably true. A bit of Googling found this website, which repeats the same story, and several other cool octopus stories too. Octopi have turned off annoying aquarium lights by squirting water at them, can use tools (veined octopus) and open jars (see video).

Amazingly, octopus do all this while living as little as a year. They grow to full size, solve puzzles, breed and die while human babies are still learning to sit up and crawl. That’s mind-blowing. And it makes you wonder – what could an octopus achieve in fifty years?

Octopus tanks and nearby fish tanks. The green arrow shows the octopus tank and the red arrow shows a nearby fish tank