Do Octopi Dream? An Astonishing Nature Documentary Suggests They Do

With regard to the sleep­ing and wak­ing of ani­mals, all crea­tures that are red-blood­ed and pro­vid­ed with legs give sen­si­ble proof that they go to sleep and that they wak­en up from sleep; for, as a mat­ter of fact, all ani­mals that are fur­nished with eye­lids shut them up when they go to sleep. 

Fur­ther­more, it would appear that not only do men dream, but hors­es also, and dogs, and oxen; aye, and sheep, and goats, and all vivip­a­rous quadrupeds; and dogs show their dream­ing by bark­ing in their sleep. With regard to oviparous ani­mals we can­not be sure that they dream, but most undoubt­ed­ly they sleep. 

And the same may be said of water ani­mals, such as fish­es, mol­luscs, crus­taceans, to wit craw­fish and the like. These ani­mals sleep with­out doubt, although their sleep is of very short dura­tion. The proof of their sleep­ing can­not be got from the con­di­tion of their eyes-for none of these crea­tures are fur­nished with eyelids—but can be obtained only from their motion­less repose.

-Aris­to­tle, The His­to­ry of Ani­mals, Book IV, Part 10,350 B.C.E

2,369 years lat­er, Marine Biol­o­gist David Scheel, a pro­fes­sor at Alas­ka Pacif­ic Uni­ver­si­ty, wit­nessed a star­tling event, above, that allowed him to expand on Aristotle’s obser­va­tions, at least as far as eight-armed cephalo­pod mollusks—or octopi—are con­cerned

Appar­ent­ly, they dream.

Scheel, whose spe­cial­ties include preda­tor-prey ecol­o­gy and cephalo­pod biol­o­gy, is afford­ed an above-aver­age amount of qual­i­ty time with these alien ani­mals, cour­tesy of Hei­di, an octo­pus cyanea (or day octo­pus) who inhab­its a large tank of salt water in his liv­ing room.

Scheel’s usu­al beat is cold water species such as the giant Pacif­ic octo­pus. Hei­di, who earned her name by shy­ly stick­ing to the far­thest recess­es of her arti­fi­cial envi­ron­ment upon arrival, belongs to a warmer water species who are active dur­ing the day. Very active. Once she real­ized that Scheel and his 16-year-old daugh­ter, Lau­rel, were instru­ments of food deliv­ery, she came out of her shell, so to speak.

The hours she keeps affords her plen­ty of stim­u­lat­ing play­time with Lau­rel, who’s thrilled to have an ani­mal pal who’s less ambiva­lent than her pet gold­fish and out­door rab­bit.

Mean­while, the co-hous­ing arrange­ment pro­vides Pro­fes­sor Scheel with an inti­ma­cy that’s impos­si­ble to achieve in the lab.

He was not expect­ing the aston­ish­ing noc­tur­nal behav­ior he record­ed, above, for the hour-long PBS Nature doc­u­men­tary Octo­pus: Mak­ing Con­tact.

As Hei­di slept, she changed col­ors, rapid­ly cycling through pat­terns that cor­re­spond to her hunt­ing prac­tices. Scheel walks view­ers through:

So, here she’s asleep, she sees a crab, and her col­or starts to change a lit­tle bit.

Then she turns all dark.

Octo­pus­es will do that when they leave the bot­tom.

This is a cam­ou­flage, like she’s just sub­dued a crab and now she’s going to sit there and eat it and she does­n’t want any­one to notice her.

It’s a very unusu­al behav­ior to see the col­or come and go on her man­tel like that.

I mean, just to be able to see all the dif­fer­ent col­or pat­terns just flash­ing, one after anoth­er.

You don’t usu­al­ly see that when an ani­mal is sleep­ing.

This real­ly is fas­ci­nat­ing.

But, yeah, if she’s dream­ing, that’s the dream.

As dreams go, the nar­ra­tive Scheel sup­plies for Hei­di seems extreme­ly mun­dane. Per­haps some­where out on a coral reef, anoth­er octo­pus cyanea is dream­ing she’s trapped inside a small glass room, feast­ing on eas­i­ly got­ten crab and occa­sion­al­ly crawl­ing up a teenaged human’s arm.

Watch the full episode for free through Octo­ber 31 here.

via Laugh­ing Squid/This is Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Every U.S. Vice Pres­i­dent with an Octo­pus on His Head: Kick­start The Veep­to­pus Book

Watch 50 Hours of Nature Sound­scapes from the BBC: Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Proven to Ease Stress and Pro­mote Hap­pi­ness & Awe

Envi­ron­ment & Nat­ur­al Resources: Free Online Cours­es 

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC tonight, Mon­day, Octo­ber 7 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domaincel­e­brates the art of Aubrey Beard­s­ley. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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