Octopus wanted to hug female diver off Oahu, Hawaii

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Caleb Heikes a diver enjoys the company of an octopus who wanted a hug

When I saw this photograph I thought of another similar situation. It concerns a Netflix documentary called My Octopus Teacher, which I have not seen. It documents a year spent by filmmaker Craig Foster forging a relationship with a wild octopus in a South African kelp forest according to Wikipedia. Both the photograph on this page and the documentary strongly point to an intelligence in octopuses and a sociability which humans need to recognise and respect. A lot of people regard octopuses as a food source. I think we should start relating to them as a friend on an equal level if they allow it.

Caleb Heikes a diver enjoys the company of an octopus who wanted a hug Caleb Heikes a diver enjoys the company of an octopus who wanted a hug. Photo: Caters News Agency.[/caption]

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The Life Science website says that octopuses are surprisingly social and confrontational. Sounds familiar? They were considered to be quite solitary and certainly not well known for their social skills. However, a study from about 2015 revealed that both female and male octopuses often communicate with each other while demonstrating colour changes and posturing sounds which to me looks a bit like body language domination behaviours.

It found that if two octopuses approach each other with dark colours (octopuses can change their colour at will) they were likely to have an aggressive encounter but when their colours faded to paler versions it usually indicated that they were preparing to retreat.

Octopuses are also known to kill each other and sometimes be cannibalistic. Again, sounds familiar? In addition to turning a darker colour when they aggregate into a group, the scientists observed one octopus posturing repeatedly when it stood tall and extended its arms outwards while drawing itself upwards. The mantle would be raised. All the signals indicated aggression towards another octopus.

Cephalopods like cuttlefish are known to take on a darker colour during disputes, with male octopuses displaying a dark face. And if two male cuttlefish have dark faces while they confront each other it is usually going to turn physical. If one of them has a pale face they usually back down.

Cephalopod intelligence is much discussed and generally it impresses. However, within the biological community the scope of cephalopod intelligence is controversial. It is hard to quantify non-vertebrate intelligence. But they have large, well developed brains and the brain-to-body mass ratio is the largest among invertebrate. It was found that their arms can act independently to their brain when reacting to light, as if they had their own brain.

Cephalopods are active predators. This may be the reason why they are intelligent as it takes intelligence to hunt, attack and kill prey.

Octopuses have demonstrated intelligence in the face of challenges. For example, they seek out lobster traps and steal the bait inside. They have been known to climb aboard fishing boats and hide inside the containers that hold dying or dead crabs.

They have also been known to climb out of their tanks, crawl across a laboratory floor and enter another tank to feed on the crabs there. They then return to their own aquarium.

I recently wrote about an octopus which attacked a man on a beach in Western Australia. It appears to have been an unprovoked attack. The motivation is puzzling. It was almost as if the octopus was telling the man to leave the beach because it is his territory. Perhaps it is an example of nature telling humankind to be more respectful of their planet and its resources.