Octopuses are now considered to be one among the few animals capable of wielding tools. The eight-armed invertebrates were long known to be highly intelligent; they’re capable of solving simple puzzles, we know.
As far as tool usage goes, this was not known until more recently. And, we now have the video to prove it.
Researcher Julian Finn, from Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, witnessed an underwater spectacle rarely seen—perhaps for the first time ever: an octopus carrying two halves of a coconut shell around on the ocean floor; the octopus then deployed the coconut shell pieces for a specific purpose.
The sight of it was pretty funny, he thought.
Finn told the BBC, “I almost drowned laughing when I saw this the first time.”
He added, “I could tell it was going to do something, but I didn’t expect this—I didn’t expect it would pick up the shell and run away with it.”
Finn recorded the encounter and proceeded to follow the cephalopod, until finally, it plunked itself inside the two shells and closed itself inside using its legs.
It was believed that the octopus was making use of this implement as shelter while wandering in an open area of the ocean floor—where the species is most vulnerable to predators and there is nowhere else to hide.
“This is an incredibly dangerous habitat for these animals—soft sediment and mud couldn’t be worse,” explained Dr. Mark Norman, head of science at Museum Victoria.
“If they are buried loose in mud without a shell, any predator coming along can just scoop them up. And they are pure rump steak, a terrific meat supply for any predator.”
Researchers witnessed four similar instances of octopuses using coconuts over the course of filming the veined octopus (amphioctopus marginatus) between 1999 and 2008, BBC reported.
They speculated that the cephalopod would have typically used bivalve shells but that discarded coconut shells have become a regular feature of the area thanks to human consumption.
Octopuses were seen “excavating” coconut shells by turning them open-side facing upwards and then blowing jets of water to remove the mud from the insides of the shells.
They observed the octopuses carrying the shells as far as 20 meters on the ocean floor—this despite having no spine nor bones of any kind. The activity had the appearance of “stilt walking,” they said.
“I think it is amazing that those arms of pure muscle get turned into rigid rods so that they can run along a bit like a high-speed spider,” Dr. Norman added.
“It comes down to amazing dexterity and co-ordination of eight arms and several hundred suckers.”
As far as tool usage goes, there are criteria to be met for an object to qualify as a “tool.” Tom Tregenza, a professor at University of Exeter, United Kingdom, told BBC, “A tool is something an animal carries around and then uses on a particular occasion for a particular purpose.
“While the octopus carries the coconut around there is no use to it—no more use than an umbrella is to you when you have it folded up and you are carrying it about. The umbrella only becomes useful when you lift it above your head and open it up.
“And just in the same way, the coconut becomes useful to this octopus when it stops and turns it the other way up and climbs inside it.”
Photo Credit: YouTube Screenshot | Poussin Diver