Wild Female Octopuses Caught on Camera Chucking Shells at Males

Credits: Godfrey-Smith et al., 2022, PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0

It’s well-known that octopuses are smart animals, but also asocial. Instead of going out as a group, these creatures prefer to live and explore the world on their own. That doesn’t mean that they won’t meet another of their species at some point, though – but that’s not necessarily because they want it.

Octopuses don’t enjoy the company of each other and recent observations seem to have proven it even further. A recent study revealed recordings of octopuses throwing shells at each other. The community is now debating on whether the behavior is an “anti-social act” or if the victim was just “accidentally” in the way. The study was published via Plos One.

It’s not odd for animals to throw debris at each other. It’s a common behavior that we’ve seen multiple times in different species whether it is to defend themselves or to catch prey. What’s so interesting this time is that we’re a specimen flinging things at his own kind!

The research was conducted throughout the course of a year and was conducted by scientists from different countries. The team used underwater cameras to observe the octopuses, specifically in Jervis Bay, located in the southeastern end of Australia, an area that happens to be quite rich in fauna.

Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher at the University of Sydney, led the team. The scientists recorded over 100 different instances of Octopuses throwing debris, sometimes at each other, and other times to nothing at all – apparently. The animal would hold the piece of seashell or anything else with its arms and then blast it at the other specimen.

According to the results of the study, there are two main explanations for this event. The first is that the animals might have been trying to keep their house clean and free of debris and food waste. The other has a more aggressive explanation.

Most of the time, it was female octopuses who threw seashells and other materials at other octopuses as an attack. This event was recorded at least 55 times!

The object would hit the target about 33% of the time, and it seems like it was more likely to succeed if the animal threw silt. The targets weren’t necessarily male all the time, although it did happen whenever a passerby would try to mate with the female. Other times, the “fights” would occur between females.

In 2016, a female was recorded throwing debris at a male at least ten times within four hours – and the animal hit the target five times. Octopuses who got the hit would not try to fight back but would attempt to duck occasionally, although it wasn’t possible all the time.

The study goes on and says that another possible explanation for this behavior is that it could be a “tantrum.” It’s well-known that animals feel emotions, and perhaps octopuses throw debris as a form of relieving frustration.

As of now, one of the hypotheses from above has been confirmed.

After observing tons of interactions between the animals, the researchers concluded that octopuses wouldn’t throw things at each other in the form of a targeted attack. They did explain that it could be a social behavior, although it is unclear exactly what it is.

You can read the full search at Plos One for free.

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