A new study led by marine biologist Eduardo Sampaio from the University of Lisbon recorded an octopus hitting fish and suggests that this cephalopod behavior is due to sheer malice.
Octopuses and fish often form teams to hunt for prey. “Since several partners come together (hunting), this creates a complex network where investment and profitability can become unbalanced, giving rise to control mechanisms between individuals,” Sampaio explained on his Twitter account.
This would explain why cephalopods sometimes adopt this aggressive attitude towards some of their ‘helpers’. The researchers hypothesize that most of those hits are aimed at keeping fish in check during the hunt, either to deter them from prey, relocate their position, or even drive them out of the hunt altogether.
However, blows were also observed that had no apparent practical explanation.
In these cases, the scientists contemplate two possible theoretical scenarios. In the former, the practical benefits are completely ignored by the octopus and the hit is simply malicious behavior. In the other scenario, the blows can be a form of aggression with late benefits, since in this way the octopuses would punish the fish that “misbehave” with the aim of promoting collaborative behavior.
“Documented cases of constant changes in the behavior of individuals after negative feedback are rare in non-human species, so their potential use by octopuses during collaborative hunting deserves further investigation,” the study authors conclude.
Twitter, Rt, University of Lisbon.