Animal aspects: The incredible mind of the octopus

08 October 2020

There are around 300 species of Octopuses, but not all species have been identified yet. They are closely related to other cephalopods such as squids and cuttlefish, and they are invertebrates like insects and crabs. Octopuses can be found in every ocean, and most live on the seafloor, utilising crevices and rocks to hide in. Most species live alone in shelters that they make from rocks or shells, and some octopuses have even been known to make a door for their shelters!

Incredible camouflage

Octopuses can change the colour and texture of their skin to match their surroundings, which makes them amazing at hiding themselves away from their predators and prey.

Alien-looking creatures from the sea

There aren’t many animals who look more alien than an octopus. With their eight tentacles, large eyes, and lack of a backbone, octopuses are vastly different in looks from us humans and the animals we are most familiar with. Octopuses however, are incredibly intelligent animals, and we are now beginning to recognise just how much is going on in their minds. 

Amazing escape artists

Researchers who work with octopuses talk about how ingenious they are in finding new ways to escape their tanks when no one is looking.1 Quite often, captive octopuses baffle the researchers by escaping seemingly inescapable tanks. Octopuses do not have any bones, and so they can squeeze through gaps as small as a coin. 

One captive octopus in New Zealand became famous for his escape from an aquarium. The lid on Inky’s tank was left slightly ajar one night, and he seized the opportunity to make a break for it. He was thought to have climbed out of his tank, down the side, and then across 4 metres of floor to a drainpipe. The 50-metre drainpipe led straight to the sea, and Inky was never seen again.

Clever problem-solving

Octopuses have also been known to squirt water at lights left on in the laboratory overnight, thereby short-circuiting the power and effectively turning the light off.

Octopuses are incredible problem-solvers, and researchers have found that they can solve all sorts of problems and mazes, often quicker than intelligent mammals can.

Ingenious hunters

Octopuses are wild animals however, and it is in the wild where their intelligence is most incredible. The Pacific striped octopus for example, has developed a unique way to hunt their prey. When they spot a shrimp, they compress themselves, creep up to it, and then tap it on the opposite side of its body. The shrimp then startles and jumps straight into the octopus’s arms.3

Octopuses really are amazing animals!

Octopus welfare:

Octopuses are used in laboratories in research and are thereby subjected to a range of welfare issues. They are wild animals, and so a life in captivity is restrictive, and cannot replicate the true ever-changing and vast ocean that they have evolved to live in. Octopuses are highly intelligent animals, and so they may get easily bored in captivity. 

Octopuses are now protected in some countries legislation when used in research, which is unusual for invertebrates, as most species have no protection. Even under such protection, life in a laboratory cannot compare to the wild, and so undoubtedly their welfare suffers. 

Farming octopuses?

As the world population continues to grow, there is growing discussion on how to feed everyone. Octopuses have been considered to be a farmable species, and there are now a few farms around the world farming them for human consumption. Understanding what octopuses need in terms of welfare, and what they are capable of in terms of intelligence, is therefore particularly important for protecting their needs.


See an octopus using the tapping on the shoulder technique to catch his prey

See an octopus squeezing through a small gap on a boat

See the incredible shape and colour changing abilities of an octopus

Learn more:
Recently released documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher’ is making waves on streaming service Netflix. Watch the trailer: