Amphioctopus marginatus goes by a few names. It is sometimes called the veined octopus for the dark lines that run from head to tentacle. Sometimes it’s just “thief,” as the little cephalopod is known for its affinity for discarded shells and fibrous husks from the world above water. But most know it as the coconut octopus for its incredible dexterity with coconut shells. You could even call it a transformer.
While scientists have known about the crafty coconut octopus for some time, a wave of viral videos over the last few years has let them crawl into the public’s consciousness. I say “crawl” because their defining ability is carrying coconut shells around to use as both transportation and protection while walking from place to place.
The video above from ReefID shows the full range of activities that make this transformer so transfixing.
These curious behaviors have ignited a debate usually saved for land animals: is it using tools? And if so, does that mean we need to upgrade the intelligence rating of the octopus to something closer to chimps and monkeys?
It’s hard enough to answer the first question. When you or I pick up a hammer and nail to hang a painting, we know we are tools, but for other animals, “tool use” has no hard definitions. Does an animal have to affect its environment with an object, like a capuchin monkey who cracks nuts with rocks? Or can an organism just manipulate its environment, like walking around with a coconut helmet?
No matter how we eventually decide to define what this little wonder does, it’s clear that it’s more than meets the eye.