Personalities of Octopuses
Charles Siebert has a fascinating article about animal personality in the New York Times which includes an extended discussion of the personalities of octopuses. [NYT permalink]
Anderson told me that he and his staff started naming the [Giant Pacific Octopuses] at the Seattle Aquarium 20 years ago. Not out of cutesy sentimentality. Anderson, a longtime marine biologist and the son of a sea captain, is not given to that sort of thing. It was, he said, because they couldn't help noticing the animals' distinct personalities. G.P.O.'s live about three or four years, and the aquarium typically keeps three on the premises - two on display and one backup or understudy octopus - so there have been a good number of G.P.O.'s at the aquarium over the past two decades. Still, Anderson had little trouble recalling them: Emily Dickinson, for example, a particularly shy, retiring female G.P.O. who always hid behind the tank's rock outcroppings, or Leisure Suit Larry, who, Anderson told me, would have been arrested in our world for sexual assault, with his arms always crawling all over passing researchers. And then there was Lucretia McEvil. She repeatedly tore her tank apart at night, scraping up all the rocks at the base, pulling up the water filter, biting through nylon cables, all the parts left floating on the surface when Anderson arrived in the morning.
One particularly temperamental G.P.O. so disliked having his tank cleaned, he would keep grabbing the cleaning tools, trying to pull them into the tank, his skin going a bright red. Another took to regularly soaking one of the aquarium's female night biologists with the water funnel octopuses normally use to propel themselves, because he didn't like it when she shined her flashlight into his tank. Yet another G.P.O. of the Leisure Suit Larry mold once tried to pull into his tank a BBC videographer who got her hand a bit too close, wrapping his tentacles up and down her arm as fast as she could unravel them. When she finally broke free, the octopus turned a bright red and doused her with repeated jets of water.
Just across from Achilles that night was another G.P.O. named Mikala, their two tanks connected by an overhead, see-through passageway, the doors to which were closed. Mikala was a recent replacement for Helen, who had just been released back into the sea after a failed attempt by the scientists to mate her with Achilles. Anderson told me that they had left Achilles and Helen together in the same tank for a week, but, he said, "there wasn't any chemistry." [NYT]