Wakatobi’s Nut Job

Published February 13, 2017 in Invertebrates, MARINE LIFE

Instinct or intellect?

The Victoria Museum research team’s findings first brought to light in an article titled “Defensive tool use in a coconut-carrying octopus,” published in the December 2009 issue of the journal Current Biology. References to “tool use” within the article sparked both interest and debate within the blogosphere. Some heralded this as yet another example of tool use within the animal kingdom, while others argued that an octopus’ armoring was no different from a hermit crab living within a discarded mollusk shell.

Those who argue in favor of tool use point out that a tool is defined as a object that provides benefit only when used for a specific purpose. For example, humans may carry an umbrella on a cloudy day, but the umbrella is just an encumbrance until the rain starts – at which point it is deployed as a tool. By this logic, the hermit crab’s shell isn’t a tool, because it provides the constant benefit of protection. In contrast, the shells lugged about by a coconut octopus seem an awkward burden that slows the animal, and are useful only when protection is needed. This, proponents argue, shows a level of advance planning, as the shells provide delayed benefits, and work only if the octopus is able to correctly assemble the separate parts to create a single functioning component. Hence, tool use.

Regardless of where you stand on the tool issue, the coconut octopus’ abilities are especially remarkable when you consider its biology. Like others of its kind, the coconut octopus has a short life span – often only three years. Since octopus mate only once, and die soon after, youngsters are on their own from the moment they hatch from eggs. There are no elders to pass on generational wisdom. In addition, these creatures are generally solitary, and unlikely to pick up tricks by observing their peers.

Special sightings

Coconut octopuses are sometimes found in the waters around Wakatobi Resort, usually on sand bottoms at sites like Teluk Maya, Zoo and the inside shallows of the House Reef. During daylight hours, they are likely to remain hidden in the sand within their protective shell armor. They become more active at dusk, and might also be found by ambitious shore divers making an early morning exploration. Sightings are more likely on the shallow muck sites around Buton Island that are visited by the dive yacht Pelagian. And because the humans living near these locations aren’t always tidy, you may find one of these clever little octopus that has upgraded its armor to a discarded tin can. Whatever it’s wearing, the sight of a coconut octopus striding across the sea floor while clutching its protective gear is a comical reminder that humans aren’t the only clever animals on the planet.

There are many exciting creatures to encounter on your next great dive adventure to Wakatobi. Email us at email office@wakatobi.com. Complete a quick trip inquiry at wakatobi.com.

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