Octopuses sometimes punch fish out of spite, scientists say

·1 min read
Octopuses sometimes punch fish out of spite, scientists say
An octopus on a coral reef in the Red Sea (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
An octopus on a coral reef in the Red Sea (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Octopuses and fish team up to pursue prey, but they may not always get along, research suggests.

The tentacled cephalopods, it seems, can get a little salty and randomly punch their hunting partners – sometimes out of spite.

This bullish behaviour has been caught on camera by researchers observing interactions between octopuses and several fish species in the Red Sea.

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Footage captured by Eduardo Sampaio, a researcher at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, shows several octopuses lashing out at fish as they happily swim alongside.

“Octopuses and fishes are known to hunt together, taking advantage of the other’s morphology and hunting strategy,” Mr Sampaio said.

“Since multiple partners join, this creates a complex network where investment and pay-off can be unbalanced, giving rise to partner control mechanisms.”

The punching can sometimes serve a purpose by displacing the fish to a degree where it loses the immediate opportunity to catch prey.

Essentially, octopuses want to get to the food before the fish has a chance to.

But there are times when the explanation for the blow remains unclear and could just be a display of “spiteful behaviour”.

“We found different contexts where these punches (or directed explosive arm movements, if you want to get technical about it) occur, including situations where immediate benefits are attainable, but most interestingly in other contexts where they are not!” Mr Sampaio said.

The research has been published in the journal Ecology.

[This article was originally published in December 2020]

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