Remember Paul the Octopus? The most famous oracle of his species, the octopus was predicting outcomes of the 2010 football world cup matches more accurately than the economists at Goldman Sachs. One could put that down to chance but it just so happens that these remarkable invertebrates, capable of squeezing their big bodies into coconut shells, are also highly intelligent and therefore prone to boredom. The video above by the California Academy of Sciences shows how the keepers of captive octopuses have to find ways to engage them with toys and puzzles – a favourite activity of the creatures is to open jars containing their food.
Octopuses have the largest brains of any invertebrate and interestingly the brains extend to the arms as well, in the form of neurons. The tentacles or arms are covered with thousands of suckers that feel and taste at the same time, so when an octopus touches you it's also tasting you.
"It is as if each arm has a mind of its own," Peter Godfrey-Smith, a diver, professor of philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and an admirer of octopuses told Orion magazine. In mildly evil experiments which involved cutting off an octopuses's arm (mildly evil since it can regrow) it was found that not only did the arm crawl away on its own, but on finding food grabbed it and pushed it towards what would have been the mouth. They are often likened to alien life forms for their many intriguing characteristics — like being able to instantly camouflage themselves into their surroundings, squirting predators with ink, beaklike jaws that can deliver a nasty bite, venomous saliva, and the ability to lose arms and grow them back. It is believed that the last common ancestor of cephalopods (the mollusc family under which octopus are classified) and vertebrates was roughly 500 million years ago, after which the evolutionary paths diverged.
Among their many eccentricities, these anti-social beings also exhibit sexual cannibalism, meaning that mating ends with the female trying to eat the male. Masters of disguise and escape, these solitary creatures in captivity are known to attempt escapes, often found crawling on the floor near their tanks, or in the tanks of other fish.
In the video below, an octopus sealed inside a jar opens it and almost escapes: