Scientists Have Observed Octopuses "Punching" Fish Silly

Come get it.
Come get it. / Photo by Ann Antonova from Pexels

The octopus is one of the world’s most intelligent creatures. It can open jars, camouflage itself, and demonstrate many other signs of thinking.

Other times, octopuses will get what they want using cruder methods. Like punching a fish right in the face.

In a new study published in the journal Ecology, researcher Eduardo Sampaio at the University of Lisbon in Portugal detailed a collaborative arrangement between octopuses and different species of fish, in which the fish and cephalopods hunt for food in pairs and therefore cover a wider search area.

Observing this dynamic in the Red Sea, researchers noted that octopuses establish control of the pairing by striking at their fish partners using an arm to get them to move to a preferred position, to avoid eating the prey, or to deter them from the search entirely. They referred to this as a “swift, explosive motion with one arm,” otherwise known as “punching.”

You can watch an octopus smack the gills right off a fish in the video below. The footage was not taken in concert with the study, but you can see the octopus is having none of it. This is what you came for.

Plenty of fish in the study got it right in the snotbox, including tailspot squirrelfish, blacktip fish, lyretail fish, groupers, yellow-saddle fish, Red Sea goatfish, and halfspotted hind fish.

While the smacks typically serve a practical purpose, on two occasions researchers found that octopuses lashed out for no apparent reason. It could be that the octopus was using violence to keep fish in line and subservient for future foraging excursions. Fish also get the taste knocked out of their mouth for stealing prey, apparently as a punitive measure. It’s really best not to upset an octopus.

[h/t Science Alert]