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When an Eel Takes a Bite Then an Octopus Might Claim an Eyeball

When an Eel Takes a Bite Then an Octopus Might Claim an Eyeball


The conger eel was the favourite, weighing not less than 3 times greater than its eight-armed opponent. But by the point the video footage begins, the underdog octopus had already asserted its toughness, blocking the eel’s eyes and stuffing arms into its mouth and out the gill gap.

“I believed that with such distinction in dimension it could be laborious for the octopus to keep away from loss of life,” mentioned Jorge Hernández-Urcera, a marine ecologist on the Institute of Marine Research of the Spanish National Research Council.

The widespread octopus not solely defended itself, but in addition appeared to come back out on prime. The divers who made the video — not scientists — broke up the brawl, and the 2 animals survived, the octopus tearing off in a cloud of ink.

“It was very spectacular to see,” mentioned Dr. Hernández-Urcera, who collects novice diving movies and analyzes them for beforehand undescribed habits. He believed this video, recorded in 2008 off the coast of Galicia in northwestern Spain, confirmed “the intelligence of octopus and the massive repertoire of defensive habits.” But it was solely a single video, not sufficient to recommend that this eight-armed method was an everyday type of octopus martial arts.

More just lately, Dr. Hernández-Urcera acquired further video footage. Enough, he believes, to point out that octopuses will choke, blind and sacrifice limbs in an effort to defend themselves from a lot greater eel foes. He revealed his analysis in March within the journal Ecology and Evolution.

In this 2022 video, taken off the coast of the northern Spanish area of Asturias, one other widespread octopus makes use of the identical ways seen within the first video to defend in opposition to a conger eel assault. In response, the eel quickly spins to get free. At this level the octopus escapes, however it manages to come out one of many eel’s eyeballs with the ability of a sucker.

In every video, the widespread octopus might sacrifice arms, a lot as lizards drop their tails to distract predators, Dr. Hernández-Urcera mentioned. In the primary video, the octopus loses three arms whereas the one within the second video loses two — however they will absolutely regrow limbs in about 45 days, some lab checks present.

The octopus doesn’t at all times win. In a 3rd video, taken in 2023 close to Galicia once more, the conger eel grabbed the cephalopod from the pinnacle, then spins the octopus round in a loss of life maintain, slamming it onto rocks. The octopus seems surprised, if not dead, after which the eel swims off with its prey.

Piero Amodio, a biologist and comparative psychologist with the Anton Dohrn Zoological Station in Naples in Italy, thinks that when plugging the eel’s gills, the octopus’s arms might function instinctually — actually with a thoughts of their very own due to the various neurons of their appendages.

“My hunch is that the arms can do this in a non-completely aware approach,” Dr. Amodio mentioned.

He mentioned he had seen fights between octopuses the place one will fill the gill gap of the opposite with an arm, asphyxiating its foe.

Peter Tse, a professor of cognitive neuroscience who works with octopuses at Dartmouth College, calls it a “outstanding adaptation” and factors to a scene within the documentary “My Octopus Teacher,” the place an octopus resists an assault from a shark by climbing onto the again of its head.

“If it’s not an intuition however one thing that they consider individually, it’s much more outstanding,” Dr. Tse mentioned, “as a result of it takes fairly a little bit of perception to grasp that the one approach to escape this mouth is to get behind it.”

Dr. Hernández-Urcera isn’t certain whether or not the preventing methods in his movies are instinctual or discovered habits. But that’s partly as a result of conger eels usually hunt at night time, whereas these movies had been taken within the day. He believes these encounters might occur continuously.

“We assume from the start of their lives,” he mentioned, “octopus should face these sorts of assaults from conger eels.”

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