The Octopus: Brilliant and Bizarre
Octopi are one of the most unique creatures to be found anywhere in the world. These mysterious eight-legged, large-eyed ocean residents look like they would be more at home on some far alien planet than on our own planet Earth. Their mystery only increases if you study the creature behind the bizarre appearance -- a creature possessed of intelligence some researchers refer to as "human-like".
As more octopi have been studied in captivity, scientists have documented examples of this intelligence never previously seen. For example, according to "The Week", octopi have been seen arranging rocks to block the entrance to their den, and choosing rocks that blend in with the surrounding terrain.
Octopi have also shown a remarkable ability to use simple tools -- a trait shared by humans with only a very few other species, such as apes. For instance, they have been seen carrying empty shells or coconut halves around with them, hiding inside the halves when necessary to avoid predators.
Additionally, octopi have exhibited a surprising level of reasoning and problem-solving ability, including the ability to learn from trial-and-error. One even taught itself how to open the childproof cap on a bottle of Tylenol. Others have learned to drill into clams that have been wired shut, preventing them from being opened normally.
Octopi also appear to have the ability to learn and remember certain behaviors. This was demonstrated by a famous experiment in which octopi were rewarded for touching pictures of a certain shape. As time went by, not only did the octopi learn which pictures led to the reward, but also learned that pictures of other sizes and colors of the same shape would also lead to a reward.
Further study is needed to determine just how far octopus intelligence goes. Questions remain regarding some aspects of this intelligence; for example, some octopi have been observed seeming to play with Legos and other objects that researchers place in their tank. Other scientists, however, have theorized that they are not actually playing, but simply exhibiting normal investigative behavior. Learning more details about the intelligence of the octopus will continue to be an intriguing field for some time.
What do you think is the most intelligent animal?
Slate: "How Smart is the Octopus?"
Discover Magazine: "Through the Eye of an Octopus"
Boston.com: "Soft-headed Intellectuals"
The Week: "The Octopus' 'Human-Like' Intelligence"