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LONDON, United Kingdom--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- Researchers from the City University of New York have recently discovered that it’s not only likely that Octopus tetricus actively modifies its living environment, but that these modifications also allow for higher-density living in otherwise unpromising sites.

The authors of an article published in Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology journal, Peter Godfrey-Smith and Matthew Lawrence, have been studying a single den of octopuses at Jarvis Bay on the east coast of Australia since November 2009. They’ve noticed that over time, the bed of shells surrounding the central den has grown and changed shape. While it is possible that the shells have come from another source, the most likely explanation is that the octopuses themselves – known to have ‘large brains and exhibit complex behaviors’ – are actively contributing to the changes in their environment as they forage for scallops.

Predation is a major problem for these medium-sized octopuses, and the online version of the article links to stunning video footage of a fatal attack on one by juvenile Ocean Leatherjackets; a second embedded video illustrates a close call for another during a visit by a bottlenose dolphin.

The good news for our harried octopuses, however, is that over time, the increasing size of the shell bed has meant that their chosen site has been able to provide shelter for greater numbers of them. These new residents in turn add their own scallop shells, thus enabling the site to give vital cover to even more octopuses. The ‘positive feedback’ set in train is therefore also an excellent example of ‘ecosystem engineering’ or ‘niche construction’, in which an animal’s behaviour reshapes its habitat.

But just as in the human world, high-density living has both its opportunities and its challenges. The researchers have also embedded within their article links to fascinating footage of their subjects’ mating and ‘boxing’ behaviours as observed at the site.

Godfrey-Smith and Lawrence conclude that their preliminary observations ‘suggest that this is a site where long-term occupation enables the effects of individual foraging to bring about significant change’. Their article is a fascinating glimpse into the social lives of animals generally thought of as solitary and for whom one of their major food sources is key to their survival, in more ways than one.

Read the full article online:

Watch the YouTube video of an Octopus attacked by a shoal of Leatherback fish off the east-coast of Australia:


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Source: Taylor & Francis