This is a burning question that scientists hope to answer by giving 25 octopuses Rubik Cubes and other toys. While marine biologists do not expect any of the brainy cephalopods to finish the puzzle, they hope that the month-long project at 23 Sea Life Centres across Britain and Europe will show whether they have a favourite tentacle for picking things up.
Claire Little, a marine expert at the Weymouth Sea Life Centre, explained: "Uniquely, octopuses have more than half their nerves in their arms and have been shown to partially think with their arms. Many animals have been shown to favour a certain arm so we will see if octopuses can be added to that list."
A diagram of an octopus will sit alongside the tanks with the tentacles on the right labelled R1, R2, R3 and R4 from front to back; the left tentacles labelled L1 and so on. If the octopus uses a combination of arms, up to three will be recorded in sequence. A ball, a jam jar and Lego bricks will also be dropped in to the water for the octopuses' inspection. The giant Pacific octopus, the common octopus and the lesser octopus will all star in the research.
Octopuses are probably the most intelligent of all invertebrates: they have a capacity for learning and have complex memories. In 2003 an octopus in a German zoo learnt how to open jars of shrimps by copying staff. The five-month-old animal opened the jars by pressing its body on the lid and grasping the sides with its eight tentacles (see above).
I’m sure that finding whether octopuses have a preference for a particular tentacle will shed light on their brain structure, but I would love to see the looks on the scientists faces if one of them actually completed a cube!