Lurking at the Aquarium, Brilliant Houdinis of the Deep

I’m on an octopus kick, and wore a tremendous grin while reading this article. (The grin appeared even before reading of an octopus nicknamed “Lucretia McEvil”.)

Science is now questioning whether these wonderful creatures shouldn’t be considered as intelligent as the vertebrate nerds of the animal world. They certainly seem to have highly developed, often petulant personalities to go with their smarts; The stroppy teens of the animal kingdom.

“That was my attitude, too,” confesses science writer Eugene Linden, who has written about animal intelligence since the 1970s and had focused, mostly, on the “big-brained” creatures such as apes, dolphins, elephants and whales. “I shared all the prejudices everybody else has.”

Then he started hearing octopus stories. Like how they can open screw-top jars and hamster balls and child-proof caps. They can do mazes and learn shapes and distinguish colors and use tools.

“They play,” says Jennifer Mather, a psychologist and octopus expert at Canada’s University of Lethbridge.

There are even hints that octopuses have a sense of humor, Linden says.

He talks about the finicky octopus who, in a lab in Pennsylvania, was served slightly spoiled shrimp. The octopus refused to finish its dinner, and when the feeding researcher returned to its tank, the octopus made eye contact with her, then meaningfully pushed all the shrimp down the drain.

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