Our favourite cephalopods, octopuses are known for their intelligence, grace, and picking football World Cup winners. They’re thought to be smarter than your average fish and have been known to wriggle their way free from aquariums, and even hunt on land.
They are, however, generally considered to be fairly placid creatures, moving calmly through the oceans, mimicking their habitat and even other animals in order to stay out of harms way. As far as we’re concerned, octopuses are generally pretty chill dudes.
That illusion has been shattered however as recent footage has emerged of an octopus swinging a tentacly right hook at an unsuspecting nearby fish. Yes, the eight-legged jelly spiders are apparently mean fighters too and won’t hesitate to coward punch any marine life that gets in their way.
Check out the video below to see octopi bringing the biff.
The footage above was captured by marine biologist Eduardo Sampaio from the University of Lisbon in Portugal who recorded the behaviour in a recent study.
When he first witnessed octopuses punching on, he started laughing — not a great move underwater.
“I almost choked on my regulator,” he told NPR. “When I saw it for the first time, I just burst out laughing.”
Octopuses are generally solitary creatures however they have been known to collaborate with groups of fish in order to hunt for prey. Sampaio’s team were studying this cooperative behaviour when they first witnessed the octo-brawl.
Working together in search of food means that each species can “take advantage of the other’s morphology and hunting strategy,” Sampaio explains.
“Since multiple partners join, this creates a complex network where investment and pay-off can be unbalanced, giving rise to partner control mechanisms.”
Octopuses punch fishes. YES. OCTOPUSES. PUNCH. FISHES!!
Our new paper is out on @ESAEcology, showing that octos express this behavior during collaborative hunting with other fishes. This was probably the most fun I had writing a paper. Ever! (small 🧵)https://t.co/Vwg9BoaSUo pic.twitter.com/PIYuVXpM9t
— Eduardo Sampaio (@OctoEduardo) December 18, 2020
The punching is thought to be a way for the octopus to regulate the behaviour of other members in the hunting pack. After all, it’s not useful for others if some fish are simply there to grab the spoils while not actively participating in the hunt.
Punching fish who aren’t helping the group seems to be the octopus’ way of keeping everyone else in check and ensuring fairness within the team. That says a lot about the cognitive capacity of octopuses who appear to understand concepts of fairness and equal cooperation.
However, this explanation doesn’t fully capture the whole picture, as researchers were sometimes unable to see why an octopus had chosen to lash out at that particular moment.
Sampaio explained that often the punches were thrown to control the other fish, driving them away from the octopus’ next meal, or to push fish in other directions to search for food.
Other times though, the octopuses appear to throw tentacles for no apparent reason. Perhaps they just… like fighting?