Breaking the blogging silence with a story which is too cute not to remark upon (and is there a better place to record random news factoids than a half-dead blog yoy never update; no, there are not):

(And this is a non-work blog anyway.)

Feed1 octopuses (normally a solitary creature that avoids interaction with its kin) certain chemical, and suddenly it demonstrates pro-social behavior. Or as H. Devlin reports for the Manchester Guardian (September 20, 2018):

Gül Dölen, a neuroscientist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the lead investigator on the study, said: “People are like, ‘Have you got any pictures of octopuses holding glow sticks?’ which I kind of ignore because that wasn’t really our objective. MDMA is a great tool for investigating whether or not an octopus can become social.”

The nature of their interactions were […] strikingly different. Without MDMA, they approached the cage tentatively with just one tentacle outstretched. The drug made them relaxed and friendly. “They’re basically hugging the [cage] and exposing parts of their body that they don’t normally expose to another octopus,” said Dölen.

The original science (with pictures and everything) can be found in: Edsinger, Eric, and Gül Dölen. 2018. “A Conserved Role for Serotonergic Neurotransmission in Mediating Social Behavior in Octopus.” Current Biology 0 (0).

I also find this an excellent opportunity to re-recommend Godfrey-Smith’s magnificent pop science book on octopus intelligence, which describes fascinating stories of octopus behavior (surprisingly intelligent non-mammal animals) and (also) examples a rare octopus communities.

(Also, imagine a Hollywood movie plot: if the only thing that has hold the octopi intelligence back and prevented them from conquering the Earth has been their inability to coordinate, have Dölen et al. doomed the humanity? I jest, but I’d go to see that movie, too.)

Found via Mike Inoye’s Twitter.


1: Or in this case, release a carefully (?) measured amount of MDMA into an aquarium containing a select members of Octopus bimaculoides.