Deep-sea octopuses make shelters out of human waste

One man’s trash is an octopus’s treasure.

A group of researchers from Italy and Brazil wanted to take a closer look at how deep-sea octopuses interact with trash that makes its way to the ocean after being dumped by humans.

While the eight-armed creatures have been photographed with trash for years – doing things like hiding in bottles or carrying discarded coconut shell halves – there hasn’t been much scientific research into it. the phenomenon, the scientists wrote in an article published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin last month.

A coconut octopus sheltering inside a discarded glass jar in the Philippines.

David Fleetham/VW PICS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

For their own study, the researchers collected 261 images taken by divers that show seabed octopuses interacting with trash all over the world. They then used these images to help them determine exactly what the octopuses are doing with human waste.

“The deep-sea recordings were extremely interesting, because even at great depths these animals interact with litter,” Maira Proietti of the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil, who supervised the research, told The Guardian.

The main way octopuses seemed to use litter was for shelter, like hiding in a bottle. Glass containers were what they used most frequently, followed by plastic and then metal containers.

A coconut octopus inside a glass bottle in Indonesia.
A coconut octopus inside a glass bottle in Indonesia.

Hal Beral via Getty Images

They also used smaller pieces of waste in other ways, the researchers noted, reusing items such as “metal and plastic caps/lids, glass and plastic
fragments, a metal spoon and coconut shells as camouflage”, or using larger objects like cans, plastic bags and even part of a surfboard to help them hide between the rocks.

Although this ingenuity demonstrates the intelligence of cephalopods and their “extreme adaptability”, Proietti pointed out that “it is not a good thing to think that animals can use litter for shelter because the shells have disappeared. “.

An octopus in a jar in Indonesia.
An octopus in a jar in Indonesia.

Andrew Marriott via Getty Images

And some octopus behaviors could be dangerous for them, such as using broken glass for shelter. Proietti told CBC an octopus was photographed inside a car battery, which could be releasing harmful chemicals.

The researchers acknowledged that their study had some limitations. For example, it appeared that the number of photos of octopuses with litter increased over time. But it’s unclear whether that was because of more trash in the ocean, or because digital and underwater photography was becoming cheaper and more accessible, meaning more divers would be taking pictures.

But they see their analysis as a starting point for further research on the subject.

β€œIt is possible that the negative impacts of litter on octopuses are underestimated due to the lack of available data, and we therefore emphasize that the problem needs to be further assessed,” they write in the article.


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