The Many Homes of the Coconut Octopus

No 71

The coconut octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus) inhabits the western Pacific and coastal areas of the Indian Ocean. This intelligent species does two things that very few underwater creatures do: it manipulates found objects and, at times, moves in a manner that’s awfully close to walking.

Its favorite objects, as its name implies, are coconuts shells, which the coconut octopus puts to use as a crucial shield and shelter. Upon finding a discarded and split-open shell, the coconut octopus blows water into it, to clean out the mud, and takes one or both shell halves along. In order to effect this transport, the coconut octopus has been known to ‘walk’ along the seafloor on tiptoe.

Not all scientists agree that these innovations qualify as tool use. After all, the coconut octopus is not employing objects to change its environment. But its behaviors do suggest something exceptional: that the coconut octopus plans for the future. It will take a shell along with it, despite the fact that the carrying slows it down and thus makes it more vulnerable to predation. More than simply slipping into a make-do shelter where it finds it, the octopus risks transporting its home for a bigger payoff down the line.

Researchers postulate that the veined octopus, as it’s also called, turned to coconuts after first learning to make use of clamshells. (Clams, like shrimp and crab, are a staple of its diet.) Increased human activity near its tropical habitats has resulted in an abundance of discarded coconut shells. The presence of modern man has brought other housing options, too. Beer cans, glass jars—no vessel seems too cozy or unappreciated for the pliable octopus to slip into. Lacking a hard skeleton, the octopus is pretty adept at such contortions. But it needs fortification. If it’s not wedged inside or under something, sharks and other predators will treat it as an appealingly boneless meal.

Credits

  • Cinematography - Nannette Van Antwerp
  • Original Music - Julio Monterrey
  • Sound Design - Noah Cole
  • Edit - Erinn Springer
  • Color - Evan Allan
  • Illustration - Maria Hooper
  • Title Design - Christie Little
  • Text - Chelsea Gohd

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