07 July 2008

Are Octopuses left or right tentacled?


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!

13 comments:

The Lone Beader said...

Interesting, Jams! I have never pondered that one before!

jams o donnell said...

Amazingly enough neither had I LB!

poons said...

23 life centres? all hail eris

jams o donnell said...

That doesn't look right.....

CherryPie said...

How interesting :-)

jams o donnell said...

I would never have thought of it Cherie!

Steve Bates said...

Slightly off topic, but only slightly, I'll never forget the day my father came home from teaching a middle school science class, laughing uncontrollably because a student had asserted loudly in front of the class that octopuses have eight testicles. (If they do, I hope they don't try to open jars with them.)

beakerkin said...

When one has multiple extremities this concept is somewhat abstract.
Many other animals do show signs of favoring one side.

Mimi may be unique in that she appears equally uncoordinated from either side. This may be some sort of negative ambidexterity.

jams o donnell said...

Well it would be a great trick if they could open jars with them Steve!

True Beakerkin. I think Octopuses are marvellous. Definitely worth a study.As for Mimi, she's just a special case!

Raven said...

I hope you'll let us know what they find out. What an interesting question to ask in the first place and what an odd way to try and get an answer.

jams o donnell said...

I hope thye publish their results in due course Raven. I would be fascinated to know

ELASTICWAISTBANDLADY said...

If they can solve a Rubik's Cube that makes the octopus infinitely more intelligent than me....and in turn that makes me very sad.

I'm going to remember this post the next time we're at the CHinese Buffet and I see the bin filled with calamari and little baby squids.

jams o donnell said...

And me.. I never could complete one myself.... Hopefully we will be spreaed when the super squid conquer the earth!