Zoology

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Thinking like an octopus. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer Peter Godfrey-Smith has been intrigued by octopuses for years, diving in and around Sydney Harbour during summer breaks in his native Australia.

Thinking like an octopus

Stunned by the lack of scientific research on octopuses, Godfrey-Smith is now studying their intelligence, and whether their tentacles have minds of their own. If you were an octopus, would you view the world from eight different points of view? Nine? The answer may depend on how many brains an octopus has, or, to say it another way, whether the robust bunches of neurons in its coiling, writhing, incredibly handy arms bestow on each of them something akin to a brain.

The idea of a distributed mind among animals is not new, according to Peter Godfrey-Smith, who focuses his efforts on the philosophy of science. “This suggests that animal minds lack the cohesiveness that humans have,” said Godfrey-Smith, a philosophy professor at Harvard. There may be other explanations for the observations. World's least known top predator is half-cat, half-mongoose. Animals that sit atop the food chain rarely go unnoticed, especially ones with retractable claws, sharp carnivorous dentition, large eye sockets and lightning quick reflexes.

World's least known top predator is half-cat, half-mongoose

Madagascar's top predator — the fossa — might be the exception. Chances are you've never heard of the fossa, a cougar-like creature that looks and acts like a large cat but is more closely related to the mongoose. The animal is so mysterious that some leading wildlife researchers have never heard of it. That was the case for Mia-Lana Lührs, a wildlife researcher who now specializes in studying the fossa, before she stumbled upon the creature while working in a zoo.

"I found out about fossas only by coincidence. Since it looks like a strange cross between a cat, a civet and a mongoose, the taxonomic classification of the fossa has been a puzzle ever since the animal was first described by science in the latter part of the 19th century. Monster octopi with scores of extra tentacles. In nature, it is quite rare to encounter octopi with extra tentacles (or "arms," for the purists), but a pair of aquariums in Japan's Mie prefecture have some extraordinary specimens on hand.

Monster octopi with scores of extra tentacles

The permanent display at the Shima Marineland Aquarium in the town of Shima includes a 96-tentacled Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris) that weighed 3.3 kilograms (about 7 lbs) and measured 90 centimeters (3 ft) long when it was captured in nearby Matoya Bay in December 1998. Before dying 5 months later, the creature laid eggs, making it the first known extra-tentacled octopus to do so in captivity. All the baby octopi hatched with the normal number of tentacles, but unfortunately they only survived a month. 96-tentacled octopus laying eggs The preserved octopus actually has the normal number of 8 appendages attached to its body, but each one branches out to form the multitude of extra tentacles. 85-tentacled octopus at Toba Aquarium [Related: Photo: Nine-tentacled octopus]

Bees Solve Complex Problems Faster Than Supercomputers. In a new study, researchers report that bumblebees were able to figure out the most efficient routes among several computer-controlled "flowers," quickly solving a complex problem that even stumps supercomputers.

Bees Solve Complex Problems Faster Than Supercomputers

We already know bees are pretty good at facial recognition, and researchers have shown they can also be effective air-quality monitors. Bumblebees can solve the classic "traveling salesman" problem, which keeps supercomputers busy for days. They learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they find the flowers in a different order, according to a new British study. The traveling salesman problem is a problem in computer science; it involves finding the shortest possible route between cities, visiting each city only once. Bees are the first animals to figure this out, according to Queen Mary University of London researchers. This is no small feat, especially considering the tiny size of bee brains.