Several compelling articles about the octopus have emerged lately from the laboratories of marine biology (like this one in Wired 10/2013, by author Katherine Harmon Courage who’s written a whole book on the topic). They’ve dangled fascinating information in front of my nose. Like: researchers cannot set anything down—coffee cup, clipboard, whatever—near their octopus tanks unless they want to find them in the tank. Like: the octopus does not have a central brain, as vertebrates do; its intelligence—supposedly on a par with that of dogs—is distributed throughout its body and works quite differently than ours. Like: the eight arms of an octopus can mimic the texture and color of whatever surface the animal is resting on, and they can do so separately—two gravelly-looking arms and six sandy-looking ones, for example. Amazing.
Last week I snatched up Octopus, by Richard Schweid, one of a series of natural history books published by Reaktion Books, Ltd., now atop my 2015 to-read pile. The book is rich with photos and illustrations from world art, and its first line is a grabber: “When you watch an octopus, an octopus watches you back.”
A question to Mr. Know-It-All in this month’s Wired is, “I’m an omnivore, but are there animals that are just too intelligent to eat?” Christopher Niemann’s response concludes “all animals are likely too intelligent to eat.” But he concedes readers will probably continue to eat them anyway. He says, “I do—proof that intelligence may be massively overrated.” Or empathy. But I don’t eat octopus not because they are too intelligent, but because they’re too interesting.
For more Octopus-amazement, see my review of The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery.