Friday, February 11, 2011

Cephalopods: An Intelligence of a Different Color

Ok, so it is common knowledge that certain primates, cetaceans (like dolphins), and even birds have what we would call "intelligence". But what about an octopus? According to scientists they and other cephalopods are pretty smart in certain areas, especially for invertebrates.
One area they show intelligence in is problem solving. They can navigate mazes, find clever ways to escape their enclosures, and even figure out how to open jars and bottles, as shown in this video:

Another sign of their intelligence is the fact they they have been known to use tools. They scavenge for discarded coconut shells to use later for shelter or a lair. What is cool about this is that they are collecting the tools (which may be evidence of planning for the near future) and are assembling them for their own use. That is some pretty advanced stuff, considering tool use is what we used to think separated us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Here's a video of a veined octopus showing off his tool use:

One of the most fascinating signs of intelligence that cephalopods like octopuses and cuttlefish display is their amazing camouflage. According to scientists, it is not just a simple reflex reaction to stimuli. The animal assesses the environment around it and chooses from a number of options in it's camouflage "tool-box". Biologists recognize 6 mechanisms of camouflage:
  • general background resemblance,
  • deceptive resemblance (including mimicry),
  • disruptive coloration,
  • countershading/concealment of the shadow,
  • rarity through polymorphism, and
  • cryptic behavior and vigilance.
Cephalopods, unlike other animals that use only one or two mechanisms, use all six! They do it with such speed and versatility that they put the rest of the animal kingdom to shame in the camouflage game, as shown in this video (especially at 1:40):

As you can see, mammals and birds aren't the only smart ones in the bunch! For a more in depth look at some of the studies scientists are doing on cephalopod intelligence, check out Marine Biologist Roger Hanlon's site. for more general information and videos on octopuses and other cephalopods, head to ARKive.

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