The octopus is a very smart animal. It can find its way through mazes, play, and problem-solve. It will make decisions about what foods are easiest to access, it can use coconut shells for quick shelter, and it can unscrew jars from the inside. Does the octopus also dream?
In this clip from Nature‘s Octopus: Making Contact, we observe Heidi, an Octopus cyanea or day octopus who lives with marine biologist Dr. David Scheel of Alaska Pacific University. As the cephalopod sleeps in her tank, he narrates what he believes to be her experience. His educated guesses are based on her quickly changing colors and textures. Is this octopus dreaming?
So here she’s asleep, she sees a crab and her color starts to change a little bit. Then she turns all dark. Octopuses will do that when they leave the bottom. This is a camouflage, like she’s just subdued a crab and now she’s going to sit there and eat it and she doesn’t want anyone to notice her.
It’s a very unusual behavior, to see the color come and go on her mantle like that… you don’t usually see that when an animal is sleeping. This really is fascinating. But yeah, if she’s dreaming that’s the dream.
O. cyanea lives on coral reefs and hunts by day, making the species particularly skilled at changing colors and textures frequently.
“Octopuses followed a different evolutionary path, making them different from all other intelligent animals on this planet,” says Scheel. “I am less intrigued by the differences and more interested in our similarities. What kind of a connection is possible with an animal that has three hearts and blue blood running through its veins? It’s been a privilege to have a relationship with such a strange and wonderful creature.”
Related reading from Ed Yong in The Atlantic: For Smart Animals, Octopuses Are Very Weird.
Watch these octopus videos on TKSST next: I, Octopus and Octopus Camouflage from Science Friday, and this octopus changing its colors and textures as it swims away in the wild.