A veined octopus peers out of an empty coconut shell off Indonesia in an undated picture released today with a new study.
Strange as the coconut shelter may be, what really caught the researchers' attention was that veined octopuses carry the coconuts with them--tip-toeing with the shells suctioned to their undersides--before reassembling the halves for protection or deception. (Watch video of a coconut-carrying octopus in action.)</I>
The coconut-carrying behavior makes the veined octopus the newest member of an elite club of tool-using animals--and the first member without a backbone, say the researchers behind the study, published today by the journal Current Biology.
Stretching out after a rest in its coconut-shell shelter, a veined octopus off Indonesia stacks its two shell halves like bowls and prepares to carry them across the seafloor in an undated picture--a practice that a December 2009 study calls a form of tool use.
Seen as a sign of considerable mental sophistication among nonhuman animals, tool use is known in chimps, crows, dolphins, and other species. Even so, the octopus discovery stands apart.
"I really wasn't expecting to see tool use appear in cephalopods"--squid, cuttlefish, and octopuses--said biological anthropologist Craig Stanford, co-director of the Jane Goodall Research Center in Los Angeles, who wasn't involved in the new study.
That the octopuses weren't using their tools to rustle up dinner only added to Stanford's surprise. "Even chimps," he added, "do not use natural materials to create shelters over their heads."
PICTURES: Octopuses Carry Coconuts as Instant Hideaways