Happy Hour Vid: Interpreting the Coconut-Carrying Octopus

Is the tool-using cephalopod an environmentalist at heart, a burgeoning social-networker?

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While some Web denizens were pulling out their hair over the public option, other dwellers have been blissfully mesmerized by footage of an octopus manipulating coconut shells into a makeshift shelter.

The scientists who captured the footage authored a paper arguing that the octopus's ingenuity was perhaps the most surprising example of "tool use" in animals yet discovered:

Ultimately, the collection and use of objects by animals is likely to form a continuum stretching from insects to primates, with the definition of tools providing a perpetual opportunity for debate. However the discovery of this octopus tiptoeing across the sea floor with its prized coconut shells suggests that even marine invertebrates engage in behaviours that we once thought the preserve of humans.

Meanwhile, some especially environmentally-minded bloggers attempted to connect the octopus footage to the debate over climate change in Copenhagen.

  • Mother Jones contributor Julia Whitty was the most overt: "If you've been following developments in Copenhagen and find yourself doubting primate intelligence, check out the cephalopods, widely regarded as the smartest of the invertebrates. A new paper in Current Biology details the first scientific report of invertebrate tool use in the charismatic little octopus Amphioctopus marginatus, the veined octopus...If octopuses can think ahead and be prepare themselves for abstract threats and needs, why can't we?"
  • Green Diary blogger Aditi Justa was bowled over by what looked like an Octopi-recycling program: "As if it wasn't enough for human to go all bonkers about recycling, now even marine creatures have started taking it seriously. No, I am not kidding, researchers in Indonesia have discovered more than 20 octopuses making their own mobile homes from discarded coconut shells. This never heard or seen ingenious idea of recycling is truly inspirational."
  • TreeHugger blogger Jaymi Heimbuch was perhaps the least forceful of the environmental bloggers when it came to green-washing the news: "Sea creatures using something unusual for their home can be a lot of fun. Or a little sad. Like this hermit crab that is super cute, but also reminds us of how we're polluting the oceans:"
  • By and large, however, the most common response from bloggers was of course one of reflexive sarcasm, as evidenced by this headline from Nature magazine blog The Great Beyond: "I can has coconut?" or this post from Tech Generation Daily contributor C Shanti:
This is just the start. Once the octopus community has figured out how to emulate human people, they will build waterproof modems at slow dial up speeds and eventually figure out how to create 4G networks at great depths.

And then they will event a social networking piece of software called Octotwitter or something so they can exchange trivial messages with each other in milliseconds.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.