Posted by: Jack | April 17, 2008

New understanding of Octopus sex

There’s various reports about the place of some fieldwork that’s been done recently on the mating habits of octopodes in the wild.

Traditionally scientists have thought of the octopus as a solitary creatures who didn’t have complex mating behaviour. But some scientists from UC Berkely have been tracking some of the species Octopus Abdopus, which is about the size of an orange, off the coast of Sulawesi.

They found that the creatures did in fact engage in complex behaviour, including flirting, holding tentacles and chasing off rivals.

Males pick out specific female partners, engage in courtship, and guard their dens to keep out interlopers. They even strangle opponents is they get too close. When fighting or courting the males display prominent their distinctive male striped body patterns.

Others hid their stripes and masqueraded as females by swimming along the bottom in a “feminine” fashion so as to avoid detection by potential rivals and mates.

As I’ve written before, cephalopods are intelligent creatures, and when we watch them they’re aware of it. Most studies of their mating behaviour in the past have been based on observing them in aquariams. This new research points to the possibility that they aren’t comfortable enough in that environment to behave naturally. We need to study them in the wild if we’re truly to understand them

Of course for that to happen we must preserve the marine environment and not fill it up with our crap from land, so the cephalopods can thrive.

“Each day in the water, we learned something new about octopus behavior, probably like what ornithologists must have gone through after the invention of binoculars,” said biologist Christine Huffard, the study’s lead author. “We quickly realized that Abdopus aculeatus broke all the ‘rules’ — doing the near opposite of every hypothesis we’d formed based on aquarium studies.”

“This is the first study to show a level of sophistication not previously known in the sexual behavior of an octopus. We got it wrong before, and what this tells us is that we need to do a lot more fieldwork.”

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