The Octopus Uses Shifting Colors to Live a Rich Social Life

First Posted: Jan 28, 2016 03:35 PM EST

The octopus may be far more social than you might think. Scientists have found that octopuses use their changing colors to communicate and interact with fellows, and are far more social than originally thought.

In this latest study, the researchers looked at an octopus species known as Octopus tetricus, which live in the shallows of Jervis Bay, Australia. The researchers dove in the area and witnessed 186 octopus interactions and more than 500 actions. In all that video, the octopus spent more than 7 hours interacting.

In fact, the researchers noticed some intriguing patterns. They found that when an octopus with a dark body color approached another dark octopus, the interaction was more likely to escalate to grappling. When a dark octopus approached a paler one, the paler octopus more often retreated. The opposite happened when a light octopus approached a darker one; the latter more often stood its ground.

"We found that octopuses are using body patterns and postures to signal to each other during disputes," said David Scheel, one of the researchers, in a news release. "The postures and patterns can be quite flashy, such as standing very tall, raising the body mantle high above the eyes, and turning very dark."

Octopuses also displayed on high ground, standing with their web spread and their mantle elevated. Octopuses in this "tall" posture frequently also sought higher ground. This is probably used by octopuses to make them appear larger and more conspicuous.

The findings reveal a bit more about how octopuses interact. This, in particular, shows that these animals are far from solitary creatures. Instead, they are social animals.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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