Octopus taking evolutionary steps?

Discussion in 'Behavior and Intelligence' started by kates, Jul 8, 2011.

  1. kates

    kates Larval Mass Registered

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    Hi everyone,
    I just saw the coolest show on the Science channel (it started at 11 pm July 7, 2011, Rocky Mtn Time) about
    octopuses. They did all kinds of experiments to show they have awareness of their own bodies etc. But the most interesting part was at the end where they showed how octo's around Capri (Mediterranean) have changed their behavior just in the last 10 or 20 years - as human visitors have increased the supply of food (fish) has dramatically decreased. Now, the octopuses can be found actually living in close proximity to each other, even watching and observing each other's interactions. The younger ones are shown observing the adults and actually seem to be learning from them. Are we seeing an evolutionary step toward the care of young? Then in an experiment, they repeat this: a young octopus is placed in a tank near another older octopus, so it can see the older one get a crab out of a clear box. Then, after watching, the same crab in a box is placed in front of the younger "student" octopus. He only takes a second to get to the crab, doing it just as he observed the other octo doing it. Perhaps octopuses are intelligent enough to adapt to human-changed world, and even become more astounding in their intelligence.
     
  2. mucktopus

    mucktopus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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    Interesting- I wish we had a TV!
    This poses lots of questions, mostly- What's the basis for and effect of short term behavior change in a population? This gets to the relationships between behaviors that are inherited vs. learned (knowing that it's rarely that cut and dry). Fun to mull over.
    It's not uncommon for populations of animals to make short-term behavioral changes in response to changes in the environment. Dugongs behave differently if sharks are around vs. not, sea lions teach each other to hang out at fish ladders, etc. It's likely that these octopuses had something in their behavioral make-up that gets "released" (= is safe to do) in the absence of predators, in denser populations, or in newly encountered conditions. But if placed in another area, they'd likely behave like the octopuses in that area (don't live in close proximity, etc.). In the example in the TV show it sounds like predators were fewer (and perhaps crab and bivalve prey of octopuses more abundant?).
    But evolving new behaviors is a more complex situation. Octopuses have big barriers against evolving care (and teaching) of young. 1) Most arguments for the teaching of young involves giving your own kids (or nieces and nephews) some advantage over other young because they will pass on your genes, and maybe even out-compete others in doing so. But unfortunately, if an older octopus teaches a younger one, it is teaching someone else's young that drifted in from elsewhere. They don't overlap in the same time and place with their young because adults (generally) die around the same time the young hatch. So even if the "teacher" octopus gives that younger one an advantage in life, there's no guarantee that younger one will pass on the same traits (such as "teaching"). It has just as big a chance of investing in an octopus with genes that, for one reason or another (say—high chances for cannibalism) do not make it a good "teacher."
    2) Octopuses have fairly big populations and broad geographic ranges. For animals with a small population size (like an endangered species or an isolated group where the site represents a large proportion of the entire mating population) behaviors with a genetic basis could be passed on in higher proportion, and after some generations show noticeable evolution in the short term. For example, the shyest dugongs survive and reproduce more successfully than their bold relatives, and in a short time you might have a lot of shy dugongs and not many dugongs that like to explore murky tiger shark-infested waters. Dog breeds are another example.
    But if that shark-infested area was only a small portion of the dugong range, lots of other factors influenced dugong survival, and bold dugongs kept moving in from other areas and mating, then this evolution wouldn’t likely take place. That’s more likely the case for the octopuses in the show. It's possible that that site in the Med allows octopuses that are naturally tolerant of the presence of other octopuses to survive and reproduce better than shyer octopuses. But it's unlikely to induce species-wide behavioral evolution in this time frame.

    The variation in wild octopus behavior is a really interesting phenomenon. These animals can assess their environment and react according to different conditions, and they have a big behavioral tool kit with which to do this. It sounds like this show did a great job of showing some of that variation we're not used to seeing on TV. Now to see if I can track it down online!! Thanks for sharing the show's synopsis!
     
  3. asid61

    asid61 GPO Registered

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    So, octos are in an evolutionary lock when it come to intelligence?
     
  4. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    If anyone does spot this available on NetFlicks, Hulu, YouTube, etc. PLEASE post as I would like to see it as well.
     
  5. OB

    OB Colossal Squid Staff Member Moderator

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    Never; the thing about evolution is that you never know which contingency will prove to be selective next :wink:
     
  6. ceph

    ceph Wonderpus Staff Member Moderator

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  7. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    The smell part is an interesting aside. We have noticed that our octopuses will come out quickly if we first feed the corals with Cyclop-eze.
     
  8. jaja

    jaja Larval Mass Registered

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    this reminds me of bears, and how they can adapt within a generation, with the mother's teaching the cubs
     
  9. SabrinaR

    SabrinaR Larger Pacific Striped Octopus Registered

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    I think that this might prove the point. Couldnt it be possible that the "shyness" is in some way a part of their genetic makeup, and if it is, then the bolder ones would be able to mate far more then the shy ones, leading to shyness of a specific breed of octopus to go some what extinct and thus new "evolved" behavior?

    Just a thought. :grin:
     

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