Run, Octopus, Run!

Run, Octopus, Run!


[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER 1: They can crawl. They can squeeze and hide. They can even use
jet propulsion. And just when you think
that octopuses couldn’t get any more versatile, they up
and walk away. [MUSIC PLAYING] And while it’s utterly absurd to
look at, once we stop laughing, maybe we should ask why would
one of the most agile creatures in the ocean choose to scamper. Backwards. That momentous question
captured the attention of Dr. Chrissy Huffard, a Senior
Researcher at the Monterey Bay Research Institute, whose
graduate studies at UC Berkeley focused on cephalopod behavior. DR. CHRISSY HUFFARD:
Generally, I try to understand
how octopuses survive in their everyday lives,
avoid being eaten, find mates, and find prey. SPEAKER 1: Documenting
the survival strategies of octopuses isn’t easy. You’ve got to be willing
to spend a lot of time on remote tropical beaches. DR. CHRISSY HUFFARD:
My job is a lot of fun. I wake up at dawn every
morning, get in the water, and get out for a brief
snack at low tide, and then get back
in until sunset. SPEAKER 1: It’s hard work,
but somebody’s got to do it. DR. CHRISSY HUFFARD: Unlike
other octopus studies that had been done,
I was actually able to follow individuals
all day long on snorkel. SPEAKER 1: Particularly,
the cryptic algae octopus. DR. CHRISSY HUFFARD:
The algae octopus tends to come out during
times of day and tides, and in certain
habitats that mean they tend to clump in the wild. And there are lots
of individuals that use the same area
and prefer that same area. So they’re bumping into
each other, mating, fighting, competing
for similar resources. And I could watch this
happen in real time and pretending I wasn’t there. SPEAKER 1: Although on
occasions, her subjects realized they were
being observed. DR. CHRISSY HUFFARD: I am
assuming that they considered me a predator in those cases. Octopus’s main defense is not
to be seen in the first place. That’s their best chance
of not being eaten. SPEAKER 1: And if all else
fails, they can just jet away. SPEAKER 1: And in
that shape, camouflage isn’t even a possibility. SPEAKER 1: It was in one
of these defensive moments that Dr. Huffard witnessed
an entirely novel attempted escape. DR. CHRISSY HUFFARD:
I was working with a film crew for a
documentary series called the Shape of Life. It was easy to get
them to act defensively when you’re chasing
them with a camera, and we got footage of the
coconut octopus walking on two arms. Oh, it was hysterical to see. We laughed and our masks filled
up a little bit with water. Then later I saw the behavior
in the algae octopus. We again laughed at how
hysterical it looked, but also we understood the
biomechanic significance of it. Octopuses have very
strong arms even though they don’t have bones. They have three bands of muscles
that oppose against each other. And the volume of those
muscles and their arms stays constant as
it changes shape. That’s called a
hydrostatic skeleton. That allows them to use the
internal pressure of their arms for support. SPEAKER 1: But just because
an octopus is physiologically capable of walking
backwards, doesn’t make it the best form of escape. Or does it? DR. CHRISSY HUFFARD:
When octopuses jet to escape a predator,
there’s so much internal pressure
that’s built up inside of their mantle cavity, or
inside of their body sac, that it actually stops
their hearts briefly. SPEAKER 1: Going
into cardiac arrest while swimming away in a
panic, probably isn’t ideal. DR. CHRISSY HUFFARD:
Walking backward allows them to use two of
their arms for locomotion and six of their
arms for camouflage or to otherwise make their
shape seem unrecognizable. SPEAKER 1: And while only
a few species thus far have been documented fleeing
on foot or rather arms, Dr. Huffard believes that
this escape plan isn’t a difficult trick to pull off. DR. CHRISSY HUFFARD:
Just the way we don’t have to stop
and think move left leg, move right leg, it’s a type
of motion called feed forward movement, where it’s almost
automatic once it gets going. And I think it was part of their
normal locomotion repertoire of how they can move around. SPEAKER 1: Yet
another method for these skittish invertebrates
to show off having no backbone. For Science Friday,
I’m Luke Groskin.

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