Octopuses Are Recycling Bottles and Cans for Shelter

Ziga Plahutar/E+ via Getty Images

Few creatures exhibit crafty thinking quite like the octopus. These mysterious creatures tend to keep their dens on a strict cleaning schedule and aren't above punching obnoxious fish. Now it appears they’ve even found a use for human trash.

A new study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin has gathered an impressive amount of data that demonstrates octopuses are repurposing marine litter to create protective shelters. The paper, which was supervised by the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil, was able to document 24 different species using a variety of cans, bottles, and other containers in crowdsourced and marine institution images.

Not just any trash will do, however. The octopuses seemed to prefer unbroken containers as well as bottles that were opaque, and thus better for hiding from predators. They also use the litter as a place to lay eggs.

In other cases, the octopuses were observed to be using the containers as a kind of armor, donning a bottle or can and then scurrying across the ocean floor.

Though there's been evidence of octopuses using artificial shelters for decades, the study's authors maintain the practice appears to be increasing. And while this is certainly evidence of their creative thinking, it’s not all good news: Some containers may contain chemical residue or batteries that could potentially prove harmful. Using the trash also hints at a deficit of seashells, which octopuses typically use as a shield or to construct a den.

[h/t Smithsonian]