OCTOPUSES’ SHORT LIVES UNRAVELLED
If you've hung around this website long enough, you'll know I am fascinated with animal intelligence; African Gray parrots, crows, dogs, dolphins, and (here it comes) octopuses being some of my favorite animals. Not to coin a pun, but I'm a sucker for octopus stories, and I love watching videos of them or reading about them. They are fantastically smart creatures, and the more is learned about them, the more they seem to exhibit emotional lives; they clearly demonstrate recognition, and if you've ever looked into those weird rectangular irises of their eyes, you'll know whereof I speak when I say that you can't avoid the feeling that there's a kind of "personality" looking back at you.
Without belaboring the point, so much study has been done of octopus intelligence that it's now fairly widely known that they can actually learn from each other, merely by watching another octopus do something. Stories abound of octopuses in captivity, leaving their tanks (when their human minders are gone), and slithering to another tank to eat a crab, or a fish, even a shark or two, and then slithering back to their own tank before their two-legged minders return. All this intelligence is controlled by a network of brains - one in each tentacle and a central brain in the head.
But there's a problem, they don't live very long... two to three years tops, and when they mate, they die, and the reason why has only recently been figured out (article shared by J.T.):
In a nutshell, it is due to chemical changes in the female after she lays her clutch of eggs:
For years, scientists have tried to discover why octopuses act this way after mating. Now, a new study published in the journal Current Biology could provide the answers we’ve all been looking for. Researchers say that mother octopuses torture themselves after mating due to chemical changes that occur around the time the mother lays her eggs.
A study in 1977 found that a set of glands near the octopus’s eyes was responsible for the mechanism that caused the self-destruction. The researchers found that these glands produce steroid hormones in the octopus. And, when the mother has laid her eggs, these glands go into overdrive. It is these steroids that are believed to push octopuses to torture themselves.
Altogether, the researchers found three separate chemical shifts that occur at the same time the octopus mother lays her eggs. First, there’s a rise in pregnenolone and progesterone. These two hormones are usually associated with reproduction in a host of creatures. So, it isn’t surprising to see them here.
Next, they saw a second shift as the octopus began producing higher levels of 7-dehydrocholesterol, or 7-DHC. This is a building block of cholesterol, and humans also produce it in the process of making cholesterol, as well. However, it may be one of the chemical changes causing octopuses to torture themselves after mating.
7-DHC can be a toxic compound. That’s why humans don’t keep it in their systems long. The researchers also noted that the optic glands began producing more of the components used in bile acids.
Octopuses are naturally cannibalistic creatures. As such, the torture, and subsequent death caused by these changes could be a way of naturally culling the older generation to protect the younglings before they can be killed and eaten by the older octopuses.
Now all of this brings me to my high octane speculation of the day. As noted, octopuses are carnivores, and they're smart. And they only live two - to - three years. One wonders just how smart they might be if they lived not two or three years, but twenty or thirty. One could learn a lot in that time, especially with nine brains. Indeed, I even saw a video on octopuses that posed the same speculation.
So suppose scientists have figured out why octopuses die so young. You know, and I know, that somewhere, some "scientist" will think it's a great idea to create the "superpus", an octopus or other kind of cephalopod that will live a decade or two... or three... And then that scientist will want to see if the extended lifespan will lead to even more intelligence on the part of this strange creature (well duh!) and then who knows what will happen? Already scientists are observing that octopuses - a normally extraordinarily solitaire creature - are beginning to develop social lives and even "octopus cities" in some places in the Pacific, a behavior that has never been observed of these creatures before.
So who knows what might happen? We know that few scientists have the wherewithal to resist tinkering with nature, so somewhere someone will do this. But with the octopus, we might be dealing with a creature that has the smarts to strike back in a variety of creative ways...
...I can't get Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Sea out of my mind...
See you on the flip side...
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