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Inside the mind of the octopus

Inside the mind of the octopus
Inside the mind of the octopus by Sy Montgomery Photograph: Brandon Cole ON AN UNSEASONABLY WARM day in the middle of March, I traveled from New Hampshire to the moist, dim sanctuary of the New England Aquarium, hoping to touch an alternate reality. I came to meet Athena, the aquarium’s forty-pound, five-foot-long, two-and-a-half-year-old giant Pacific octopus. For me, it was a momentous occasion. Many times I have stood mesmerized by an aquarium tank, wondering, as I stared into the horizontal pupils of an octopus’s large, prominent eyes, if she was staring back at me—and if so, what was she thinking? Not long ago, a question like this would have seemed foolish, if not crazy. Only recently have scientists accorded chimpanzees, so closely related to humans we can share blood transfusions, the dignity of having a mind. I had always longed to meet an octopus. The moment the lid was off, we reached for each other. Occasionally an octopus takes a dislike to someone. Then there was Wendy. Related:  animals are not cute; but their behaviour is fun science

Muriqui monkey mothers are key to sons' sexual success There's nothing quite like having mum around when you're trying to get it on with a lady. That is if you are a male northern muriqui monkey, according to a study by anthropologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. According to behavioural studies of wild muriquis combined with genetic data, sexually mature males get helpful access to mates by the mere presence of their mothers and other maternal kin. The northern muriqui is a large, long-lived, socially complex and critically endangered primate -- with only 1,000 animals left in the world, in the Brazilian Atlantic Forest. Karen Strier and her colleagues have studies the monkey for almost 30 years. Unlike other primate societies, muriqui culture is egalitarian, peaceful, and reproductive success is spread evenly across the males of a group instead of being determined by male social rank as it is in most species. Genetic data was gathered from the faeces of 67 monkeys and analysed.

Real Life Werewolves? Dog Bites and Full Moons | The Thoughtful Animal Happy Halloween! I decided to revise and repost this piece from November 1, 2010, on dog bites, full moons, and confirmation bias. Click the archives icon to see the original post. Our story begins in March 2000, when Dr. Shortly after the publication of this paper, Chapman received a short note from a local farmer: “Have you university types ever looked at whether dog bites happen more around the full moon? It is also a well known fact that farmers are the unwitting victims of confirmation bias, recall bias, and a menagerie of other cognitive biases. But perhaps man’s best friend is more susceptible to the tidal effects of the moon than is man himself. The researchers accessed twelve months’ worth of public health records, and extracted the data on daily admissions for dog bites from all accident and emergency departments in Australian hospitals. Chapman S, & Morrell S (2000). Top illustration by the awesome Glendon Mellow of the Symbiartic blog here on Scientific American.

Cold-Blooded Cognition: Social Cognition in a Non-Social Reptile? | The Thoughtful Animal Earlier this week, scientist Anna Wilkinson won an IgNobel prize for her research on contagious yawning (really, the lack thereof) in red-footed tortoises. In case you’re not familiar with them, the IgNobel Prizes are given for research that “first makes you laugh, then makes you think.” Read Scicurious’s coverage of the awards here. Since I’ve covered Wilkinson’s research twice on this blog in the past, I thought I’d repost them in honor of her award. Most people who study cognition focus on mammals or birds. Reptiles, birds and mammals have all evolved from a common amniotic ancestor, and as such they are likely to share both behavioural and morphological traits. The ability to learn from the actions of another conspecific (a member of the same species) is adaptive. The red-footed tortoises of the Cold Blooded Cognition Lab. An implicit assumption often made is that living in social groups promoted the evolution of social learning. Why should this task be hard?

Turtle embryos can speed up their development to hatch together with their siblings | Not Exactly Rocket Science A clutch of a dozen turtle eggs lies buried in the bank of Australia’s Murray River. For the embryos inside, timing is everything. In a few days, they will all hatch together, finding safety in numbers in their vulnerable first moments. But such synchrony isn’t easy. Although all the eggs were laid at the same time, in the same nest, they experience radically different environments. That’s not what happens. In 2003, Spencer collected clutches of wild eggs, split them into two groups, and incubated them at either 25 or 30°C. To work out which, Spencer’s student Jessica McGlashan captured pregnant Murray River turtles and allowed them to lay their eggs in a lab. McGlashan found that the embryos sped up their development if they were incubated with advanced peers, who had enjoyed a week at 30°C. When they finally emerged, McGlashan found that these embryos had exhausted more of their yolk supplies in their attempts to catch up. Reference: McGlashan, Spencer & Old. 2011. Image by Peripitus

Zoologger: Cannibal shrimp shows its romantic side - life - 17 November 2011 Zoologger is our weekly column highlighting extraordinary animals – and occasionally other organisms – from around the world Species: Lysmata amboinensisHabitat: coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific, striking in the night Cannibalistic and willing to fight to the bitter end under the cover of darkness: Lysmata amboinensis shrimp have a brutally romantic side. These hermaphrodite cleaner shrimps start out as males and develop female reproductive organs as they grow. The bright orange shrimp, which have bold red and white go-faster stripes on their backs, wouldn't normally encounter many of their kind as they move around the reefs where they live. Moonlit massacre At just 6 centimetres long, L. amboinensis has a Napoleon complex to go with its size. It scavenges parasites and dead tissue off the backs of larger fish, and faces intense competition for food resources. But at night, infrared cameras captured a very different scene. Fickle monogamy , Slime killer hagfish feasts in rotten flesh

Dingo rearranges furniture for better dining - life - 22 December 2011 Video: Dingo moves table to snag treat A captive dingo has been caught on camera moving a table to use it as a step stool to reach a tasty morsel. It is a rare example of an animal solving a complex problem, though strictly speaking it is not true tool use. Bradley Smith of the Australian Dingo Foundation and colleagues observed dingoes at the Dingo Discovery and Research Centre in Toolern Vale, Victoria. In 2008 a male dingo called Sterling was trying to reach a food item dangling from the ceiling of his enclosure. On another occasion he moved a plastic kennel to a different place in the enclosure and then sat on top of it. "At some point, he has made the connection between the position of the table and the object of desire or goal, such that he uses the table as a means to an end," Smith says. However impressive it may be, Sterling's behaviour isn't really tool use , says Christian Rutz of the University of Oxford. More From New Scientist Cold war in space? More from the web Recommended by

Guest Post: the Nature of Octopuses There is an old story about a scorpion and a turtle. Variants abound, but the basic tale revolves around an unusually talkative scorpion that asks a turtle for a lift across a river. The turtle refuses at first, fearing the scorpion’s sudden but inevitable betrayal. The scorpion insists, the turtle relents, and the two get halfway across before the scorpion predictably stings the turtle. As they sink to their mutual deaths, the turtle asks, “Why did you do it?” This story is similar, except an octopus plays the role of the scorpion, and no one talks. Moreton Bay, on the eastern coast of Australia, is home to around 20,000 green turtles. She started cutting. Sea turtles often eat jellyfish, and they hold down their slippery morsels with throats that look like nightmarish pits, lined with fiendish, backward-pointing spines. The blue-lined octopus (Hapalochlaena fasciata) is one of at least three closely related species that live in Australian waters. Photo credits: Kathy Townsend

Empathic rats spring each other from jail | Not Exactly Rocket Science You enter a room with two cages. One contains a friend, who is clearly distressed. The other contains a bar of chocolate, which clearly isn’t. What do you do? While a few people would probably go for the chocolate first (and you know who you are), most would choose to free the friend. Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal from the University of Chicago found that rats will quickly learn to free a trapped cage-mate, even when they get nothing in return, or when there’s a tasty chocolate distraction around. This is either a surprise or a retelling of old news, depending on how far back your memory goes. Church’s published his results in a provocative paper called “Emotional reactions of rats to the pain of others”, which sparked a flurry of similar studies throughout the 1960s. In later years, the taboo on animal empathy began to lift and people became happier to ascribe it to the wider animal kingdom. It seemed that rats are sensitive to each other’s emotions, ‘catching’ them from one another.

octopus challenes our understanding of consciousness itself by electronics Nov 3

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