Response to comments on Blue ring - stomatopod video

Discussion in 'Octopus Care' started by Neogonodactylus, Aug 29, 2006.

  1. Neogonodactylus

    Neogonodactylus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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    Phil et al,

    The purpose of feeding the H. lunulata to the O. scyllarus was part of a larger line of study examining coevolutionary arms races. In particular we are interested in how predator and prey interact and deal with various offensive and defensive morphologies and behaviors. The animals were not put together for our entertainment. I wanted to ask a fairly basic initial question - would a stomatopod that occurs sympatrically with a blue-ring attack it? We generally think that the coloration of blue-rings is aposomatic, but aside from people usually avoiding them because they recognize the blue-rings and have been told by other humans that they are dangerous, I know of no data that that demonstrate that the blue rings serve as a warning to any other species that might play the role of "predator". The next question to ask if there was avoidance would be whether this behavior was learned of innate? Similar research has been done on other aposomatic systems such as mot-mots and coral snakes, yellow-bellied sea snakes exposed to predatory fish or herons and egrets, etc. It has not been done with blue-rings. Making the question even more interesting from an evolutionary perspective is the fact that both H. lunulata and O. scyllarus have indeterminate growth so it is possible for their interactions to vary with different size relationships - large stomatopods might be able to kill and/or eat smaller blue-rings and large blue-rings might be able to prey of smaller stomatopod. This could considerably complicate the dynamics. It would seem more difficult for an innate avoidance to evolve under these circumstances or even possibly a learned one.

    So where do you start exploring such a question. I would prefer to make my initial observations in the field watching blue-rings and stomatopods interact, but such observations are extremely difficult and even if you are persistent and patient enough to see a few encounters, you have little control over the participants, their size, physiology, motivation, experience, etc. Aside from those who are opposed to carnivores killing and eating prey, I assume most people would not object to this type of research. Bringing the animals into the laboratory gives us much more control over the interactions. First, I can control the predator making sure that it is hungry my depriving it of food for a specified period, making sure that it is not approaching a molt, etc. If it doesn't attack the octopus, I know that it is not simply avoiding the blue-ring because it isn't hungry. It is also easier to control the size relationship between the two and to assay the blue-ring to determine how much TTX it contains and/or delivers. (The former is done through chemical analysis; the later by giving the octopus a live grass shrimp, waiting a prescribed period after the initial attack, removing the shrimp and analyzing it to see how much TTX it contains.)

    While the intereaction was staged, it was done in a very large tank (200 gal) with lots of rock into which the participants could escape. The stomatopod did have a pvc burrow, but it would have an even better one in the field.

    When I presented the blue-ring to the stomatopod, I expected one of three outcomes. Most likely I thought, the stomatopod would flee or simply ignore the octopus. If so, I was interested to see if the blue-ring would also flee, do nothing, or attack (but these are different questions from what I was primarily interested in.) Alternatively, the stomatopod could attack driving off or killing the blue-ring. The third alternative, which I did not expect, was that the stomatopod would kill and eat the blue-ring.

    As you saw, the later happened. What you did not see was that the stomatopod continued to pound the octopus for about 25 minutes, long after it was initially disabled, and then killed. Several times during this period, the stomatopod appeared to sample the octopus, jumped back and extensively cleaned its mouth parts. Finally, it ate the entire corpse. We watched the stomatopod for several days and it seemed no worse for the meal. When offered another blue-ring, it also attacked and ate it suggesting that it had not learned to avoid them. In fact, there seemed to be no reason to.

    What is interesting here is the behavior of the predator. I've watched stomatopods kill and eat other species of octopus and I had never seen this extended period of processing. This suggested to me that the O. scyllarus was mechanically removing the TTX containing venom from the dead blue-ring by repeatedly pounding and manipulating it. Of course there also remains the possibility that some stomatopods such as O. scyllarus have evolved resistance to TTX, perhaps by modification of their sodium channels as has occurred in garter snake populations that prey on TTX containing newts. We are indeed conducting the obvious experiments of feeding predators pieces of shrimp injected with TTX, injecting TTX directly into stomatopods, etc. However, to test the mechanical processing hypothesis, we have to measure the TTX contained in a prey animal before and after a stomatopod has processed it. Further questions would then consider whether the processing behavior is learned or innate, what happens as the size of the prey approaches that of the prey, are small O. scyllarus resistant to attacks by predatory blue-rings, etc. If it turns out that O. scyllarus are resistant to TTX, then we would like to know if this occurs in other species that occur with or do not occur with blue-rings.

    I see this as a legitimate and ethical line of research. Clearly there are issues related to any research involving predator - prey relationships. We try to minimize the number of animals used and certainly try to avoid threatened species, etc. However, often the question dictates what species are used. In this case, it happens to be blue-rings - not because they are "beautiful", but because they contain TTX and have what appears to be aposomatic coloration and we would like to understand how such systems coevolve and function.

    I do not stage "cock fights" to satisfy my own or anyone else’s desire to be titillated. I have advised on various nature films that may have included fighting and predation sequences, but in that context neither I or my science have been attacked. In fact some of the same people who seem so affended by this sequence have praised those very films.

    (By the way, I was not an advisor on "Incredible Suckers" although I have worked with Mike several times and I've discussed the H. fasciata sequence with him. The blue-ring - stomatopod encounter was staged in an aquarium, was between a blue-ring and stomatopods that do not occur together, and came to a conclusion that I think was not justified. If you look carefully at the sequence, there are at least two different stomatopods used. The first one injured the octopus and was replaced by the second. The story told was that blue-rings release venom to kill prey at a distance. This has not been fully documented and our attempts to replicate it have failed. I suspect that in this case if the stomatopod was killed by venom, it was probably because the injured octopus was "leaking" saliva due to being stabbed.)

    O.K., I've rambled on long enough. I can take personal criticism, but when people feel that they can attack the quality of science being conducted in my laboratory, I take it personally. It was clearly a mistake to post that clip and I will do my best to have it purged from the web.

    Roy
     
  2. DHyslop

    DHyslop Architeuthis Supporter

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    Roy,

    I don't want to speak for Phil, but rather take the opportunity of first response. I don't think anyone meant to attack you or your work. In the absence of the supporting information you supplied above, I think its easy for people to draw the "cock-fight" conclusion. I suspect given the correct background few will think it cruel. My cephalopod molluscs eat crustaceans; if you have a crustacean that eats cephalopod molluscs so be it. That the two aren't sympatric isn't important.

    If it was a mistake to post the video, it is not because there are mature adults who consider it like a cock-fight but rather because of the teens out there watching it who like that aspect!

    Dan
     
  3. Phil

    Phil Colossal Squid Supporter Registered

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    Hi Roy,

    Thankyou very much for explaining the background to the video. Absolutely agree with Dan in that no criticism of your lab was intended whatsoever. Please be aware that when the link to the clip was posted originally, no context was provided and we had no manner of knowing that this was part of a scientific research program. I assumed, completely erroneously, that it had been staged in a private aquarium for entertainment and was understandably concerned by the 'cool' and 'wow' factor that the video was attracting. I'm sure you'd agree we do not wish for persons to stage this privately.

    If I'd known the background I certainly would not have been critical, on the contrary, I have every respect for the work you and your colleagues do - just ask Steve O'Shea! I fully appreciate the scientific validity of the experiment given your explanation so please do not purge the video.

    My only request is for readers who post clips of this nature - please attempt to explain the context as it will prevent misunderstandings of this nature,

    Good luck with the research,

    Phil
     
  4. Neogonodactylus

    Neogonodactylus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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    Phil,

    Thanks! Understood. The problem I did not anticipate was the URL being posted on other sites. Had I placed the clip on Tonmo, I certainly would have explained the context and what we were doing. With the URL cropping up all over the place, I think it best to pull it and move on. Hopefully the next thing you hear about this research will be when it is published in a peer-reveiwed journal.

    Roy
     
  5. monty

    monty Colossal Squid Staff Member Supporter

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    I would be very sad if you were to deem it necessary to avoid posting content of scientific interest for fear of being attacked, Roy. I have a great deal of respect for your work, and really appreciate having an opportunity as a "well-read layman" to get to interact with you and the other real professional scientists on TONMO. I think the biggest problem with the discussion of that video was the complete lack of context in which it was presented; in the absence of any hint of the rationale, it was not obvious that there was a sound reason for this.
    Of course, the trend in the internet seems to be that videos get redistributed, or at least re-linked, frequently in ways that take them out of context; I haven't looked to see if there was a not of context or rationale on reefcentral or your research pages.

    This also ties in to some of the discussions we've been having a bit on documentaries lately; it seems like there is a lot of sensationalism, sometimes to the point of misrepresentation, in how things are presented to the public even in produced documentaries, so in a "everyone can be an author, no one is an editor" medium like the internet, things get even more out of control.

    Frankly, I am greatly pleased that you stepped up to explain the context, reasoning, and what was actally learned by that experiment. I'm sad that it only happened after some bad feelings had been expressed, and I also know that it's frustrating to have to explain or justify your work in the face of misconceptions, when you're presumably interested in research and perhaps advocacy, rather than "public relations damage control."

    In some ways, I am glad that people expressed some misgivings, though, and I don't think it was intended as a personal or professional attack. I think it's important for the public to see that there are checks and balances and considerations when doing this sort of work, and that it helps us learn. There are a lot of experiments that I find intriguing in terms of the results, but I'm not sure how I feel about the methods, and while I'm largely against the way animal rights groups frequently use emotion to spin things unrealistically, I do think it's important to have some pressure to balance the cases where unnecessary cruelty is rationalized. (I don't mean to include your work in this category.)

    In this case, I took most of the comments as questioning, more than attacking. Consequently, I applaud you for being willing to answer the concerns and explain the context of the video. I think there is an endemic problem that the general population doesn't have an opportunity to develop a realistic understanding of the ethical issues in animal research, and that is only compounded by the tendency of the animal rights movement to attract or create outspoken zealots who are willing to bend the truth to appeal to the emotions of their audience, while the researchers tend to be interested in their research and their personal ethical integrity (which they almost universally have considered a lot, and which is closely monitored by regulatory agencies) but not so much in explaining it to the public. And similarly, there is a lot of glorification of "epic gladitorial battles of nature" and whatnot in the media, as well. But I don't think either of these were really what happened here... I haven't gone back to re-read all the posts, but it struck me as similar to the questions about how the photographed architeuthis would survive having lost its tentacle on the hook-- it's easy to identify with the individual animal, even though there are many of the animals in the wild, and they are constantly under predation pressures and subject to other survival demands. But we tend to think of animals in aquariums as pets, which taps into all of our child nurturing protective emotions... I have to admit I was sympathetic for the octopus, and I certainly have trouble reading papers about research on cats without picturing my own pet. I realize this is irrational; there are probably thousands of cats anesthetized in shelters every day, that go to the incinerator unmourned and contributing nothing to science nor making any people happy by being loyal companions, so singling out the cats who are taken from this untimely end to be studied in ways where they are not conscious and in pain as somehow being mistreated makes little sense... People have weird ideas about dignity being at odds with experimentation, though. I heard a radio discussion on NPR about the "Body Worlds" exhibits, and there were some people who seemed to think that it was undignified, and therefore should be banned from public display.

    As usual, that's my rambling :twocents:
     
  6. binaryterror

    binaryterror GPO Registered

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    So you made this video! That's amazing! But yeah, as stated above, most people just get the idea of having a fisht staged for the fun of it. but I specifically stated that it wasn't staged for fun, it was for science.

    But please don't have it un-hosted. It will help many people in the long run.
     
  7. erich orser

    erich orser Architeuthis Supporter Registered

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    Hi Roy,

    I in no way objected to the experiment being presented, as I recognized the source and in know way doubted the scientific validity of what was going on. I simply found myself sympathizing -in a most untechnical way - with the blue ring. Much as footage of lions deliberately killing cheetah cubs on the Savannah disturbs me, although I certainly can't find any "fault" with the lions for doing it, nor with any competing-predator, predator/prey relationship.
     
  8. Jean

    Jean Colossal Squid Supporter

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    Hi Roy,

    Hanging head in shame here....................I jumped to conclusions NOT a good thing to do many apologies. Your explanation cleared up any doubts I had. Just for my own curiousity tho' what sort of ethics approval do you have to get? I have to fill in a 20 page questionnaire for the ethics committee if I just want to HOLD cephs never mind actually work with them (and that committee only meets a few times a year :evil: ) And they always seem to turn down the first application just on principle it seems.

    Cheers

    Jean
     
  9. tonmo

    tonmo Titanites Staff Member Webmaster Moderator

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    Roy, your explanation in the seed post of this thread is excellent, and my only regret is that you didn't offer it as an exclusive on TONMO.com! :heee:...

    Jokes aside, Phil's point is spot-on, I think -- having the video posted in context would make all the difference. I can definitely help you acheive that should you want to use the Web as a medium to share status and progress on your research. We'd love it -- this community is all about real-time and collaborative research, and I think we actually have a lot to offer there. With the video being posted as a stand-alone element, the "cock fight" type confusion is inevitable. I'd be happy to post an embedded video in an article (such as the very post you made to put it into context), for example. I think this would be much appreciated and would educate at the same time. No confusion or unfounded suppositions.

    Open offer, any time. In any event, thanks again for sharing and putting this into context for us all.
     
  10. Phil

    Phil Colossal Squid Supporter Registered

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    Yes, absolutely. If possible I'd like to see this too - the video was fascinating, educational and unique (as far as I know). To have the video presented formally would be an excellent addition to this site and a notifier of the nature of the research undertaken at your lab.

    Same here Jean, quite embarrassed. Lesson learned for the future - you would think I would have looked before I lept after all these years on this site!
     

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