Octopuses are throwing things at each other

"Hey! Calm down, you two!"
"You'd better not be thinking about bothering me!" The gloomy octopus has a way to striking back at intruders. (ID 52329800 © Irko Van Der Heide | Dreamstime.com)

Footage of octopuses in an Australian bay is causing quite a stir. Why?

Because many of them are essentially having an underwater snowball fight!

Instead of snowballs, though, they're using shells and silt (fine dirt). And this ruckus is about more than just watching animals have a spat. It is an interesting look into octopus behaviour.

Thanks to research led by Peter Godfrey-Smith at the University of Sydney, we're now getting a unique chance to see these animals use debris from the seafloor to throw things at their neighbours. Well, maybe not 'throw'.

Despite having eight arms, the animals only use their arms to gather the object they wish to throw. They then use a different part of their body called a siphon to spray the object in a certain direction. (The siphon is what usually creates the water jet that helps them move when they're in a hurry.)

But at the very least, the action seems very intentional and on target!

Have a look...

A lot of evidence

The species that was recorded in the video above is the gloomy octopus. These creatures live in Jervis Bay, off the southeastern coast of Australia.

Over 24 total hours of filming, researchers captured 102 separate instances of octopuses throwing objects. It wasn't always about throwing something at another octopus. Sometimes it appeared to just be about simple 'housekeeping' around their den, or nesting area. A clean home is a happy home!

But when another octopus got too close, the animals went from clearing their space to sending a clear message: Stay away!

With intent

These video stills and illustrations show how the octopus gather and then shoot debris at each other. (Godfrey-Smith et al./PLOS ONE)

The researchers figured out that the throwing was intentional because of a few factors.

The first was how the siphon was positioned. It was specifically aiming towards the other octopus. During a normal clearing of debris, the siphon was more relaxed and normal.

Second, the octopus changed its colour to a darker tone. This is one of the things that the animals do when they are feeling aggressive.

So feel free to appreciate the skills of the gloomy octopus from a distance. But don't get too close. You might end up with a bunch of dirt in the eyes!

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