At First Sight

Last year a cooperative octopus living in an aquarium in Germany predicted the Football World Cup winners. This skill was a revelation to most of us who only meet octopus on our dinner plates. Sadly that wily octopus is now dead, so all bets are off for the 2014 Cup games.

It turns out that octopuses are quite bright lovable creatures. People who study them are aware of their individual personalities, their propensity to learn and solve problems, their ability to communicate visually and that they can recognize their lab caretaker, even if they don’t offer them multiple simultaneous hugs.

Tricarico and her Italian colleagues reported this week on a study of how well octopuses know their neighbors (1). In the wild, they don’t fight with their established neighbors but they do establish a pecking order. The question naturally arises then as to how easy is it for a new immigrant to move into the ‘hood?

When strange octopuses were allowed to stare at each other for a while, they recognized each other when they met again.  They had already sized each other up at first sight and in some cases dominance hierarchies changed. There had been no need to put things to the test and therefore, no ink had been spilt.

If the first encounter was short, the assessment was recalled for a day or so, but if they were staying for a while, they remembered for a much longer period.  Hence in the wild, the ‘hood is quiet with no undue gang violence.


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