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January 22, 2006

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]

Hat tip to commenter Gary Denton who also runs eLemming.


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Octopuses? Since when is octopi not the preferred form for the plural? Shame on the Times.

and more importantly, do the understudy octopi have chips on their shoulders?

I wouldn't doubt it.

I've kept marine aquariums for some number of years. I've never tried to keep an octopus. No one should.

They are virtually impossible to keep contained in a home aquarium, they are just too smart and flexible. They always get out with the inevitable result. Plus given their intelligence, it's almost like slavery.

No thanks.

I hope squid stays dumb, cause I love calamari.

I don't think anybody should eat octopuses. That thing is way too big and not too common. (compared to say..tuna fish.)

Say, has anybody figured out 'inteligence treshold' for edible animal yet? If Majikthese has a wikipedia, that'll be a hilarious project. "Majikthese approved animal to be eaten" (criteria: too dumb)

Fowler's Modern English Usage states that "the only acceptable plural in English is octopuses", and that octopi is misconceived and octopodes pedantic. Octopi derives from the mistaken notion that octopus is a second declension Latin noun, which it is not. Rather, it is (Latinized) Greek, from oktopous (ὀκτώπους), gender masculine, whose plural is oktopodes (ὀκτώποδες). If the word were Latin, it would be octopes ('eight-foot') and the plural octopedes, analogous to centipedes and millipedes, as the plural form of pes ('foot') is pedes. In modern, informal Greek, it is called khtapodi (χταπόδι), gender neuter, with plural form khtapodia (χταπόδια).

"Merriam-Webster and other dictionaries accept octopi as a plural form. The Oxford English Dictionary lists octopuses, octopi, and octopodes (the order reflecting decreasing frequency of use), stating that the last form is rare. The term octopod (either plural octopods and octopodes can be found) is taken from the taxonomic order octopoda but has no classical equivalent. The collective form octopus is usually reserved for animals consumed for food."

same source, next paragraph

I'm reading the original article that Lindsay linked to,and it's fascinating. Thanks Lindsay for bringing this article to my attention.

Octopi is a pseudo-Latin plural, which is inappropriate as the word is Greek.

Will you be bringing back Tuesday/Wednesday/Holiday Octo-Blogging?

I don't eat them or squid because, like eggplant, they are rubbery. But, yes, squid are edging up the chart.

A friend claims he saw three squid in a row. The middle one had an animated conversation in brightly colored flashing with one of them, while they carefully positioned themselves so that the third one could not see the conversation.

From the Daily Record:

Giant octopus tries to devour a submarine
By Cara Page

A GIANT octopus almost ate a submarine when the £75,000 craft invaded its territory. (more...)

Interesting debate on the plural; so I guess I won't be visting any walri at the aquaria nearby?

I do hope that every time you post about an octopus and another octopus you use a different plural. There are enough standard forms for the plural to keep you going for a while.

I do hope that every time you post about an octopus and another octopus you use a different plural.

We're all about facilitating alternative discourse around here. Heh.

A friend claims he saw three squid in a row. The middle one had an animated conversation in brightly colored flashing with one of them, while they carefully positioned themselves so that the third one could not see the conversation.

Knowing what we now know about squid (or at least giant squid) having cannibal tendencies, it may have been something along the lines of, "Do you think Gary tastes good enough now, or should we give him a couple more weeks to fatten up some more?"

I used to work for a local weekly and once did a story on the University of Texas Marine Center in Port Aransas, Texas. One of those I interviewed told me about an octopus that often lifted the lid on its tank, managed to crawl to an adjacent tank and eat a fish and then return to its own tank.

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