Octopuses are Flexible and Fast Learners

Written by on May 23, 2011 in Marine Life

Scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have revealed that, in addition to being smart, octopuses have some pretty unique moves. Octopuses have large well-developed brains which makes them fast learners and because they are not limited by a hard skeleton, they are  flexible; however, for this same reason, it was believed that they had limited control over their eight flexible limbs.

The research team at the Hebrew University has proved otherwise.  They created a three-choice, transparent, plexiglass maze that required the octopus to use a single arm and direct it to a visually marked compartment outside of its tank of water that contained a food reward.

A common octopus.  Photo by Albert Kok.

A common octopus. Photo by Albert Kok.

The octopuses in this experiment learned to insert a single arm through a central tube, out of the water, and into the correct compartment to retrieve the food reward. Their success was dependent on visual cues, which the octopuses were able to translate into coordinated movements to retrieve the food.  Throughout the experiment they were also able to repeat the process.

This study was the first to show that an octopus can direct a single arm in a complex movement to a target. This and other motor control issues, are the basis of an ongoing European Union research project to build a robotic octopus. 

The research was completed by Tamar Gutnick, Prof. Binyamin Hochner and Dr. Michael Kuba of the Interdisciplinary Center for Neural Computation at the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences at the Hebrew University, and Dr. Ruth A. Byrne of the Medical University of Vienna, Austria.

Copyright ©  2011 by Marine Science Today, a publication of OceanLines LLC

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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