Coconut-Carrying Octopus Stuns Researchers: BIG PIC

Current Biology

Dec. 15, 2009 -- In this photo taken near Indonesia, a veined octopus was seen collecting coconut shells for shelter.

Australian scientists were stunned by this unusually sophisticated behavior and believe it is the first evidence of an invertebrate using tools.

"I was gobsmacked," said Julian Finn, a research biologist at Museum Victoria in Melbourne who specializes in cephalopods. "I mean, I've seen a lot of octopuses hiding in shells, but I've never seen one that grabs it up and jogs across the sea floor. I was trying hard not to laugh."

Finn and Mark Norman of Museum Victoria filmed the octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, selecting halved coconut shells from the sea floor, emptying them out, carrying them under their bodies, and assembling two shells together to make a spherical hiding spot up to 65 feet feet away from where the creature originally found the shells.

They observed the odd activity in four of the creatures during a series of dive trips to North Sulawesi and Bali in Indonesia between 1998 and 2008. Their findings were published Tuesday in the journal Current Biology.

Octopuses often use foreign objects as shelter. But the scientists found the veined octopus going a step further by preparing the shells, carrying them long distances and reassembling them as shelter elsewhere.

"What makes it different from a hermit crab is this octopus collects shells for later use, so when it's transporting it, it's not getting any protection from it," Finn said. "It's that collecting it to use it later that is unusual."

Source: Associated Press