Octopuses May Be the Closest Thing to Aliens We Can Study

According to most science fiction and fantasy depictions, alien life is similar to what we know on Earth. But it’s likely that aliens, if they exist, are actually very different from us. Scientists don’t have any extraterrestrial specimens (yet). So they use analogues instead. Octopuses are one option.

They split from a common ancestor over 500 million years ago. The thousands of suckers on their eight arms not only touch, but also taste and smell. Understanding how their brains process all of that information could provide insight into life forms on other planets.

Dominic Sivitilli is a graduate student at the University of Washington. He studies octopuses and their brains. And yes, the plural is octopuses, not octopi or octopodes. We learned about his research on Neatorama. Sivitilli collects Pacific giant octopuses, studies them in the lab, and then releases them back into the wild.

The video above shows an octopus named Lizbeth solving puzzles. A high speed camera captures how her arms and suckers work as a team. We know octopuses are intelligent. They have even been declared as sentient creatures with certain rights. 

An octopus finds food in a puzzle box while a researcher looks on

Another way octopus brains are different from humans involves location. Sivitilli shares a CT scan, which reveals neuron distribution throughout their body. Essentially, parts of their brain reach all the way to the tips of their arms. This makes it possible for them to process all of that input.

A CT scan of brain neurons in an octopus shows it spreads throughout the legs

Life in the ocean may not be anything like that on other planets. But it provides a great way for scientists to study what we could expect to see. We share this planet with species with remarkable adaptations. If you want to learn more cool octopus facts, check out John Oliver’s rant about them

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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