Octopuses and squids are smarter than we thought, and here's why
Scientists just discovered that these creepy underwater creatures are highly intelligent.
They're creepy, they're slimy, they have way more limbs than any organism should be allowed to have ... and yet here they are, opening jars and using tools and predicting the future. Perhaps we've been underestimating the squids, octopuses and cuttlefish of the world.
It turns out science is just beginning to understand how some invertebrates in the cephalopod family have become so sophisticated – at least compared to other marine animals. Researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts just published a study that explains exactly how these animals have evolved to have such intelligent and complex behavior – and it's all because of a quirk in their genes.
To explain, we need to go backwards just a bit. Scientists have previously discovered this intelligence in squids and were able to figure out why. In layman's terms, it has to do with how their genetic RNA (material in their DNA) can edit and recode itself, which is rare in marine life. That editing happens primarily in the cephalopod's nervous system, triggering the proteins that allow them to, say, escape from their tank and make small children cry:
Or open a jar to eat fish:
Or make friends with a teddy bear:
"There is something fundamentally different going on in these cephalopods where many of the editing events are highly conserved and show clear signs of selection," said Joshua J.C. Rosenthal, co-leader of the study.
In the most recent study, Rosenthal and his colleagues – Eli Eisenberg and Noa Liscov-Brauer of Tel Aviv University – found that this high rate of RNA editing was a product of evolution, and that the animals are able to turn off the editing mechanism depending on where they live.
With such advanced functions going on in their DNA, you wonder why these creatures tend to stay near the bottom of the sea, keeping a low profile and shying away from attention.
Oh, wait. There was that one time when an octopus stole a guy's camera and swam off:
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