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Watch Out For That Octopus, They Throw Things With Skill

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Unless you’re into scuba diving, you can ignore the warning. Even so, there is at least one species of Octopus who like to throw things. Considering they aren’t real high up the evolutionary ladder, the fact they have this behavior at all is a surprise. They hit their target often enough to show they mean it.

Throw shells at each other

Octopuses can be fascinating creatures to watch. Especially when they throw things. Researchers with Australia’s University of Sydney have been following some around and the films they bring back to the lab are inspiring thriller movie scripts. Washington Post envisions a scene where “a dark octopus rises from its lair on the ocean floor, sneaking up toward another octopus that lurks, barely visible, nearby among a blanket of shells and algae.

As Marlin Perkins meets Jacques Cousteau, “the second octopus shrinks away, while the first attacks by raising its arms and shooting a cloud of debris through the water toward it. Then, amid a swirl of gray silt, both retreat to their respective dens.

It turns out that “while octopuses have long been known to thrash around underwater, researchers now believe they have video evidence that shows the creatures can not only throw objects — an uncommon behavior in animals — but may also be capable of deliberately targeting each other.

The scientists aren’t sure if they do it “out of rage, perhaps to protect their eggs — or possibly because they are seeking the octopus equivalent of personal space.

The funny part is that they don’t use their tentacles to hurl shells at each other like Ninja throwing stars, they “throw” things by shooting over in a jet of water. That means a whole lot of mud and muck goes along with the solid projectile core. To another octopus, it can be intimidating.

After studying “more than 20 hours of footage from Jervis Bay, off the south coast of New South Wales, Australia, from 2015 and 2016,” the team identified “10 octopuses from the octopus tetricus species — also known as gloomy octopuses or the common Sydney octopus.

 

Published last week

The peer-reviewed PLoS One journal published their work in mid-November. The paper describes how one clip they analyzed shows a female octopus throw “17 objects in 60 minutes.” She hit another octopus 9 times out of that 17.

Another “single female threw material 10 times, with half of those attempts successfully hitting a male in an adjacent den who had been attempting to mate with her.” Men are all alike. Human females are often glad their dates don’t have eight arms.

They have a big clue that these octopuses throw things in self-defense because they made the mistake of setting up a camera too close. Even though the camera didn’t move at all, the nearest octopus threw debris at it six times, hitting it twice. “We can’t be sure, but we think some hits are probably intentional.

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Others may just be lucky warning shots. “Octopuses hit during such throws ‘often altered‘ their behavior in response — many ‘octopuses in the line of fire ducked, raised arms in the direction of the thrower, or paused, halted or redirected their movements.

According to professor Peter Godfrey-Smith, “they found the wild octopuses used a ‘jet-propelled throw‘ to project material through the water — essentially, by releasing the debris from their arms while also creating a powerful jet from the siphon located under their arm web.

They don’t have all the answers but are convinced the critters are “mildly aggressive.” The “rare form of nonhuman projectile use” isn’t seen often outside of humans. “We doubt if it’s playful. I think a lot of it is probably about the octopus equivalent of ‘personal space.’

What do you think?

Written by Mark Megahan

Mark Megahan is a resident of Morristown, Arizona and aficionado of the finer things in life.

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