Eight legs good, two legs bad!

17 Jan 2012

Along with a lot of other people, I’m a big fan of cephalopods. I’ve dived with squid and cuttlefish and have watched octopus while snorkelling. I particularly remember following one cuttlefish across a reef in the Philippines, watching its mesmerising pattern display, until it got bored of the clumsy and noisy thing with too few appendages plodding along behind it and made off for deeper water.

Octopus, in particular, are smart little critters. One of the saddest things I’ve ever read was a section of a book about octopus physiologyI really like octopus, OK? I think the book was Octopus: physiology and behaviour of an advanced invertebrate by M. J. Wells, although it was a while ago that I read it. that talked about the effect of certain nervous system lesions on the behaviour of octopus–these were lesions induced by human experimenters, of course. The writer talked about how the cephalopod victims cowered at the back of their tanks and clearly were less than keen on being used as experimental subjects. It stuck in my mind as the only place in the book (otherwise a good and thorough treatment of octopus physiology) where the author seemed tempted in any way to anthopomorphise or to ascribe emotions or feelings to the octopus. That’s why Octopus vulgaris is the only invertebrate protected under the UK’s animal experimentation laws...

Anyway, octopus are very cool and a fascinating model for non-human (and non-vertebrate!) intelligence. A recent article in Orion magazine does a great job of getting across just how amazing these creatures are. Go and read it. If they lived a bit longer and could be trusted not to molest the dog, I would love to have an octopus to live with us. Alas, I don’t like to imagine what would be the result of Winnie versus a Pacific giant octopus. Messy, for sure.