Oc­to­pus species that’s weirdly so­cial, ro­man­tic

The China Post - - LIFE GUIDE POST -

The oc­to­pus al­ready is an odd­ball of the ocean. Now bi­ol­o­gists have re­dis­cov­ered a species of that eight-arm sea crea­ture that’s even stranger and shares some of our so­cial and mat­ing habits.

With their shift­ing shapes, mes­mer­iz­ing eyes, and un­canny in­tel­li­gence, oc­to­puses “are one of the most mys­te­ri­ous and cap­ti­vat­ing species,” said Rich Ross, a se­nior bi­ol­o­gist at the Cal­i­for­nia Academy of Sciences. “They’re aliens alive on our planet and it feels like they have plans.”

For Ross and col­leagues, it got stranger when they got a batch of oc­to­puses from Cen­tral Amer­ica to study. The crit­ters just didn’t fit the loner denizen-of-the-deep pro­file that sci­en­tists had drawn for the rest of the 300 or so octo- pus species.

While most oc­to­puses live alone, com­ing to­gether for ever-so-brief and dan­ger­ous mat­ing, cou­ples of this species can live to­gether to mate for a few days in the same cramped den or shell.

While other male oc­to­puses mate from a dis­tance to avoid be­ing can­ni­bal­ized, these oc­to­puses mate en­tan­gled beak-to-beak. That style could al­most be thought of as ro­man­tic, said Al­varo Roura, an oc­to­pus ex­pert at La Trobe Univer­sity in Aus­tralia, who wasn’t part of the study.

While other fe­males lay one batch of eggs and then die, the fe­male of this species lives longer and pro­duces eggs con­stantly, bet­ter­ing the species chance of sur­vival, Ross said.

But it’s more than sex. These oc- to­puses clean out food waste from their dens. They twirl their arms like an old-timey movie vil­lain with a mous­tache. And they quickly learn that peo­ple mean food: when some­one en­ters the room, they leave their dens and head to the top of the tank.

“It’s the most amaz­ing oc­to­pus that I’ve ever got­ten to work with,” Ross said.

The oc­to­pus, nor­mally a dull cho­co­late brown, sud­denly sports stripes and spots when it gets ex­cited or up­set, said Roy Cald­well of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. He is the lead au­thor of a pa­per on the oc­to­pus with Ross and oth­ers pub­lished Wed­nes­day in the jour­nal PLOS One.

The species is pre­lim­i­nar­ily called the Larger Pa­cific Striped Oc­to­pus (LPSO), although it’s re­ally not much big­ger than a ten­nis ball — just big­ger than a sim­i­lar species.

It was found al­most 40 years ago off the coast of Panama. Other sci­en­tists wouldn’t be­lieve it was a sep­a­rate species or that it showed such dis­tinc­tive be­hav­ior. So its dis­cov­erer, Ar­ca­dio Ro­daniche, gave up and the species was never for­mally de­scribed or named.

Then in 2011, Cald­well got an email from a high school stu­dent about his pet oc­to­pus, Char­lie. It was the same species dis­cov­ered in the 1970s. Cald­well traced it to a dealer who sent him two dozen of the species from Panama, Nicaragua and Mexico to study in cap­tiv­ity. The re­searchers note that this oc­to­pus species could act dif­fer­ently in the wild.

They in­cluded Ro­daniche as a co-au­thor af­ter the re­tired re- searcher de­clined to let them name the oc­to­pus species af­ter him.

In the jour­nal Na­ture, a dif­fer­ent team of sci­en­tists on Wed­nes­day pub­lished the first map de­cod­ing oc­to­pus genes. They found the oc­to­pus’s ge­netic code is only slightly smaller than hu­mans, but twice as big as a bird’s ge­netic in­struc­tion guide.

Oc­to­puses are in­ver­te­brates, mean­ing they have no back­bones. In­ver­te­brates gen­er­ally have a less evolved ner­vous sys­tems, but not the oc­to­pus. They found that it had many of the same genes as other in­ver­te­brates, although mixed up as through a blender, said study au­thor Clifton Rags­dale at the Univer­sity of Chicago.

“There’s a lot of weird crea­tures and these are the largest of the weird crea­tures,” he said.

AP

This hand­out photo pro­vided by Roy L. Cald­well shows an LPSO male A15 can­televe large Pa­cific striped oc­to­pus about to catch a shrimp. Shift­ing shapes, sport­ing mes­mer­iz­ing eyes, and show­ing un­canny in­tel­li­gence, the oc­to­pus al­ready is an odd­ball of the ocean. Now bi­ol­o­gists have re­dis­cov­ered a species of that sea crea­ture that shares some of our so­cial and mat­ing habits.

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