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.