Right now, he is arguably the most popular, sports celebrity in the world. His name is OctoPaul, and he’s currently a ‘resident’ at the Oberhausen aquarium in Germany. OctoPaul has become a global phenomenon and celebrity due to his accurate picks of World Cup Winners.
Before each decisive match-up, two glass boxes are placed in OctoPaul’s tank, each containing a competing nation’s flag and a tasty mussel. With seeming great deliberation–and tentacle probing–the oracular octopus selects one box (the presumed, predicted winner) and proceeds with his lunch or dinner, unconcerned for the emotional responses of his hosts, or fútball fans around the world.
OctoPaul the ‘octopus oracle’ is making international news for his accurate World Cup fútball picks, and also drawing attention to these beguiling and intelligent marine creatures.
One may wonder, if in fact, OctoPaul was sensing and sizing-up the qualities of the shellfish, as opposed to those of the competing teams. And, after all, his winning choices are really just 50-50 gambles– well-within the parameters of chance. Nonetheless, the attention being drawn to such an unlikely, beguiling creature seems worth looking into…So, how smart are octopuses, really?
When it comes to highly intelligent sea creatures, dolphins, whales tend to get most of the cerebral credit. But the “lowly” octopus—a popular dish in many Mediterranean cuisines—may be one of the most intelligent creatures in the sea, and is the only invertebrate (animals lacking bones) that has been conclusively shown to use tools…
Possessing both a short and longer-term memory capacity, octopuses exhibit a wide range of fascinating behaviors, many of which have led some scientists to describe them as “highly intelligent”.
Observations of octopuses collecting and reassembling coconut shells and then using them as shelters*, successfully running mazes, and even problem solving are just a few examples of the remarkable abilities of this eight-armed cephalopod (the term means “brain/head-footed”). Remarkably, the creatures do not live very long, with some living no longer than 6 months (and the females tend to die soon after giving birth).
Given their short life-spans, and their tendency to be born and grow to adulthood with little, if any, parental contact, scientist believe that these behaviors are not instinct-based, but arise independently and are enabled by the mollusk’s sophisticated brain and neuro-physiology. Interestingly, two thirds of its neurons are located in its tentacles. Octopus tentacle show an unusual degree of “autonomy” (movement/reflexes seemingly not-directed by a “central control”, i.e., its brain) and are capable of a wide range of complex actions.
Watch the video of OctoPaul making his World Cup selection (article continues below):
In experiments, octopuses could quickly learn to distinguish different shapes and colors (which makes sense as many are able to rapidly camouflage themselves). Some researchers have claimed that octopuses engage in observational learning (similar to what great apes do) but this has been contested by others.
Still, its intelligence and abilities are respected enough that, in some countries, the mollusk is listed as an experimental animal that must be given anesthesia prior to any surgery. And, in the United Kingdom, the octopus is deemed an “honorary vertebrate” under its Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act, enacted in 1986, giving it special legal status and protection normally accorded only to vertebrates.
More about octopuses:
Most octopuses (termed ‘cephalopod mollusks’, of the order Octopoda)) lack internal or external skeletons, allowing them to squeeze into quite small openings and interstices. They have three hearts, one for each gill and the third for its body circulation. Their their blue-colored, blood plasma utilizes a copper containing protein (hemocyanin) instead of an iron containing one (i.e., human hemoglobin) to absorb oxygen. under normal conditions–warm water, high oxygen pressure–this protein is a less efficient absorber of O2. But, as the water gets colder and its O2 pressure declines, this difference becomes a more efficient means of oxygen absorption.
* This behavior was observed and documented (on videotape) in the Veined Octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus)