Octopuses Change Colors To Signal If They Want To Fight


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Octopuses Change Colors To Signal If They Want To Fight

(Which they usually don't.)
Rachel Pick
New York, US

Scientists have known for a while that octopuses and other cephalopods (like squid) are capable of changing color and shape on a magnificent level. This ability was generally thought to be a camouflage tactic, but now researchers are observing octopuses using appearance-altering skills as a way to either incite or back down from confrontation.

A team from Alaska Pacific University, led by David Sheel, found that octopuses adopting similar hues and postures are more likely to fight. An angry octopus will flush darker, but a retreating octopus will turn a paler color to de-escalate the confrontation. Octopuses can also adopt intimidating or submissive postures to go with the color change.

In video shot by the researchers, some southern Australian octopuses are shown engaging in two different conflict scenarios. In the first, one octopus adopts a darker color to signal aggression, and its opponent maintains its previous coloring. By not submissively changing color or posture, the second octopus is saying "let's do this."

In the second scenario, one dark-colored octopus stretches itself out to look as tall and imposing as possible, and its competitor turns a paler shade, presumably to communicate that it plans to back down and scurry away.

However, Sheel noted in his team's research that confrontations were rare, and thinks the body language patterns are designed to reduce conflict as much as possible. Since octopuses are very solitary animals who mate infrequently, this would serve a worthwhile evolutionary purpose—fewer octopuses killed in combat.

Sheel told New Scientist "what's interesting is the tolerance they have for one another. There must be some incentive to get along." If only humans could learn from our eight-tentacled friends.