Unexpected

Watch: Video reveals a strange, never-recorded behavior in octopuses

Stay back!

Shutterstock

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

This female octopus is doing some spring cleaning.

Once she emerges from her den with a pile of shells, she does something unexpected.

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

Here, the octopus lifts the debris with her tentacles and forcefully launches them away with a burst of water from her siphon.

This throwing behavior hadn’t been observed in any octopus until recently.

Writing this week in the journal PLOS One, researchers recorded over one hundred instances of the species Octopus tetricus throwing shells, silt, and other debris.

Shutterstock

Yui Mok - PA Images/PA Images/Getty Images

Throwing might seem like an intuitive action to us humans, but it’s actually quite uncommon in the animal kingdom.

Other than primates, just a few creatures like elephants, polar bears, vultures — and now octopuses — have been recorded flinging things at targets.

Yui Mok - PA Images/PA Images/Getty Images

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

In the case of octopuses, several situations seem to prompt debris tossing.

Sometimes, they’ll even aim their spew at other octopuses.

In this video, a female (left) blasts silt at a male who is trying to mate.

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

And here, a female (left) shoots silt in the direction of another female, who then crawls back down into her den.

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

When octopuses ended up in the line of fire, they’d sometimes react by raising their tentacles or ducking, as was the case for this male (right).

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

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

The researchers found that blasts aimed at other octopi tended to be more vigorous than the ones used for tasks like cleaning.

However, the scientists never saw an octopus react to a blast by shooting one back.

And there were cases where vigorous throws didn’t seem to be aimed at anyone in particular.

Shutterstock

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

While some social settings appear to prompt throwing behavior, researchers aren’t always sure what causes the animals to toss debris.

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

Determining the intentions of behaviors is tricky with wild animals, the authors write.

But one thing is for sure: Octopuses can officially be added to the short list of non-human creatures that know how to fling things.