t f p g+ YouTube icon

Octopuses in a Half Shell

Bookmark and Share

December 16, 2009 Tags: History of Life
Octopuses in a Half Shell

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

(Image Courtesy of AP Photo/Museum Victoria, Roger Steene)

In the natural world, camouflage can be an invaluable survival tool. Creatures have adapted also sorts of features and behaviors to make themselves less likely to attract the attention of predators or more likely to get the jump on prey and so live on to pass their genes to the next generation. Octopuses, for example, will often take shelter in between rocks or inside of shells. Recently, however, Australian researchers in Indonesia discovered an octopus that has adapted a unique method of camouflage: coconut shells.

Julian Finn and Mark Norman of Museum Victoria in Melbourne noted the unique behavior in four veined octopuses (Amphioctopus marginatus) during dives in North Sulawesi and Bali in Indonesia between 1998 and 2008. The octopuses would prepare and then carry the coconut shells across the sea floor before reassembling them as shelter elsewhere.

What makes this behavior so interesting is that it is the first record of tool use in invertebrates. Unlike other invertebrates, such as hermit crabs that use shells as mobile homes, the octopuses do not benefit from the shelter until they reach their final destinations. They instead carry these objects with them for later use, a behavior the Australian researchers argue is the very definition of tool use.

Most likely, according to Finn and Norman, the octopuses initially used shells as camouflage, much like other sea creatures, but they learned to adapt to their environment when humans began throwing halved coconut shells into the oceans. "Octopuses have always stood out as appearing to be particularly intelligent invertebrates," says Simon Robson, associate professor of tropical biology at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. "They have a fairly well-developed sense of vision and they have a fairly intelligent brain. So I think it shows the behavioral capabilities that these organisms have."

Robson notes that some scientists may disagree that the behavior of the veined octopus constitutes tool use. One thing we can agree on, though, is that the findings offer us yet another glimpse into the beautiful and at times astounding world of God’s creation.

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 1 of 1   1
Glen Davidson - #949

December 16th 2009

This brings up an important fact, which is that intelligence evolved because evolution simply cannot otherwise do many things that intelligence effects.

Life’s modifications are extreme, and in many cases are beyond what any known “natural intelligence” is capable, but intelligence does what evolution could never do (save through the evolution of intelligence, of course).  Computers didn’t exist until intelligence became sufficient to produce them, in part because evolution does not have the proper materials available to it.

This is also why I think that most responses to Behe’s mousetrap have been incorrect as well.  The mousetrap is simple enough that I can’t say that it’s impossible that it could evolve, but it is certainly not likely, and would be virtually impossible using normal “design materials” (steel would be very difficult to evolve). 

No, the mousetrap is obviously the result of intelligence because it was rationally thought up as a whole, and Behe’s “irreducible complexity” has virtually nothing to do with it.  It’s definitely not irreducibly complex in design terms (the parts can be used for other purposes), and it’s a moot issue whether it is evolutionarily “irreducibly complex,” as it’s nothing like what evolution produces.  The mousetrap is a great example of something quite simple that is at least unlikely to evolve, as evidenced by the fact that life has nothing like it.

It’s a shame that the IDists’ god is as incapable of forethought and integrated thinking as evolution is.

Even an octopus does what evolution cannot do directly, put two hemispheres found in the environment together to make a shelter. 

Glen Davidson

beaglelady - #963

December 17th 2009

I saw this in the news and thought it was fascinating—animal intelligence is such a fascinating area of research. Best of all, it actually seems to be conducted humanely.

The same day of this post, I started reading Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg.  Pepperberg is the researcher who studied Alex, the African Grey Parrot.  Though he had a brain the size of a shelled walnut, he had amazing cognitive abilities.

M_C - #981

December 18th 2009

Who provides food for the ravens when their young cry out to God . . .

- Job 38:41

Page 1 of 1   1