Since hermit crabs are actually extremely social, octopuses typically earn the reputation as the true hermits of the ocean. These highly intelligent recluses seem prefer a lonely life in the wild, or if they’re in an aquarium, one in which they can cleverly, constantly toy with their human captors. But new research suggests octopuses may enjoy each others’ company more than previously assumed.
Image: Peter Godfrey-Smith
An international team of researchers has discovered a congregation of about 15 gloomy octopuses (Octopus tetricus) off the eastern coast of Australia, which they have dubbed “Octlantis”. This is the second discovered site of a gloomy octopus social group; the first of which — called Octopolis — is located just a few hundred metres away in Jarvis Bay. Octopolis, which was first discovered back in 2009, hosted about 16 octopuses. The team’s research has been published in Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology.
Equipped with four GoPros, the group dove 10 to 15m below the water’s surface and recorded 10 hours of footage in Octlantis. They observed several octopuses interacting in and out of their dens, which appear to be engineered from piles of sand. There are apparently even discarded shells from past prey, giving it less of a “cheery social gathering” vibe and more of a graveyard aesthetic. Since these octopuses are allegedly “gloomy”, we can only hope they’re trading opinions on the new National album. (It’s good, you guys!)
“Animals were often pretty close to each other, often within arm’s reach,” the study’s co-author Stephanie Chancellor, a PhD student in biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said in a press release. “Some of the octopuses were seen evicting other animals from their dens. There were some apparent threat displays where an animal would stretch itself out lengthwise in an ‘upright’ posture and its mantle would darken. Often another animal observing this behaviour would quickly swim away.”
The researchers say that the octopuses’ weird interactions could be territorial, but they’re not sure. Honestly, octopuses are basically living in 3017 so who the hell actually knows why they’re doing this.
One can only hope that octopus discourse is better than ours. If prior studies of octopuses mean anything, these humble squishes are probably plotting to take over the world. I, for one, welcome our tentacled overlords.