Octopuses Throw Things at Each Other Like Feuding Siblings - Nerdist
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Octopuses Throw Things at Each Other Like Feuding Siblings

Don’t make me come back there! Scientists have observed octopuses acting like siblings in the backseat of a car on a long road trip, throwing things at each other and playing the “I’m not touching you” game as well as any human. The gloomy octopus is generally solitary, but a lot of them live in Jervis Bay, Australia. This consortium of octopuses (yes, that is the collective noun) seem to get annoyed with the high density accommodations and toss silt at each other. It is not a neighborly thing to do and we’re sure Mr. Rogers would not approve. 

An octopus sitting on a bed of shells throws silt at a nearby octopus
P. Godfrey-Smith et al., PLoS ONE (2022)

Scientists watched more than 20 hours of octopus videos and found that there’s as much drama in Jervis Bay as on any Real Housewives show. Octopuses are very smart, sentient creatures. Though it’s easy to anthropomorphize that they squabble with their neighbors when they get too close, the team worked to understand the purpose behind the behavior. They rated each throw in order to identify the purpose behind it. They found that the octopus’ body was generally a uniform color versus mottled when they threw silt at their neighbor. Octopuses can change their coloration quickly depending on their mood and camouflage needs. The scientists also rated how vigorous the throw was and noticed that the other octopus sometimes ducked. 

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Octopuses do toss shells, silt, and algae to clear space for themselves but the scientists are pretty sure they also direct it towards nearby octopuses on purpose. Some even threw things at the camera when it was set up too close to their den. Though it’s not actually a throw using their arms. Rather, they toss items away by pushing water through their siphon. 

An octopus sitting on a bed of shells throws silt at a nearby octopus
P. Godfrey-Smith et al., PLoS ONE (2022)

The scientists shared their research in the open access peer-reviewed PLoS ONE. The paper, titled “In the line of fire: Debris throwing by wild octopuses,” includes video of these interactions. We first saw the news in Nature

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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