Sunday 1 February 2015

The planet of the Octopi/Octopuses/Octopodes

The shark, is spot one   

First off, we demand clarification: Octopuses or Octopi. Which is grammatically correct for a plurality of these fascinating cephalopods?  Well, apparently, both are equally valid. Strict grammarians would argue that we should use Octopodes, this would be in keeping with the Greek etymological derivation. But common usage and habit conquers all, therefore throughout I will use 'octopi' to denote more than one octopode. I digress.

It seems that octopuses are pretty smart for a creature without a backbone. In fact they are considered the smartest of all the invertebrates. Cephalopods are active predators, unlike their molluscy brethren, and predators, in general, tend to be smart, well at least smarter than their prey. Evolution dictates it so.
So how smart is an octopode? This is difficult territory bestrewn with poor definitions. It would be wrong to impose our notions of 'intelligence' on these multi-limbed creatures. Their brains have evolved in a radically different environment to ours, which makes it difficult to thrust our anthropomorphic concepts of intelligence upon octopi. Indeed, I suspect we would all fail miserably on an octopi designed intelligence test. Question 1: 'How many bloaters required to write the sonnets of Shakespeare, assuming access to a dry computer?'  The number 42 comes to mind, but I suspect I have failed the test.

Back in the 1950's  it was demonstrated that octopuses had relatively large brains in comparison to their body mass. It has been estimated that the octopus has half a billion neurones. Their brains are bigger than the brains of fish and amphibians putting them on par with mammals. Numerous experiments have demonstrated the smarts of this versatile creature. Not only do they exhibit feats of memory they also show 'playfulness' which is a sure sign of intelligence. Whenever did you hear of a  slug playing catch?

It has often been said that if Dolphins had evolved opposable thumbs they would rule the world (citation required). But consider the octopus. A creature endowed with opposable 'thumbs' in abundance, soapy tit wank. Perhaps the watery medium is to blame for the lack of cephalopod dominance. After all, tis difficult to get your computer to boot up in saline. When our evolutionary ancestors left the pond eons ago, they quickly exploited the new medium and radiated out into a myriad of terrestrial  life forms. Humans are the culmination of this evolutionary thrust, for now. But who can contradict, that in the future, some multi-limbed creature will clamber ashore, gasp a gasp, only to be eaten by the vertebrate, canis domesticus. Woof, bloody, woof.  Ain't dat the sad truth.      

I wonder how big his/her brain is?


  1. "...I wonder how big his/her brain is?.."

    Somewhat larger than any found in the Palace of Westminster, or Whitehall, I'll warrant!

  2. "...I wonder how big his/her brain is?.."

    Bigger than Nick Clegg's I'll wager...