A video captured by researchers at a lab in New York City shows an octopus named Costello acting “strange” right after he wakes up.
Researcher Eric Angel Ramos told McClatchy News he thinks Costello may have just woken up from a bad dream.
Ramos, who was speaking to McClatchy News from Panama but had been researching octopuses at the Rockefeller University in New York City, said one day he walked into the lab and saw Costello attacking a PVC pipe in his tank.
“Costello was doing something really weird. He was grabbing this PVC pipe, and he looked like he was in pain or attacking something,” he said. “It really made me question what was happening, so I went and looked at the video.”
The researchers had security cameras in the lab recording 24 hours a day, Ramos said, so he rewound the tape to a few minutes before he walked in.
The video showed Costello, who was named after one of the “heptapods,” or octopus-like alien creatures in the movie Arrival, wake up from slumber and start acting in a defensive way, even though there were no predators around, Ramos said.
“We were able to see that he had this several-minute long episode where he basically did a bunch of things that octopuses do when they’re fighting for their lives,” he said. “It was a really intense interaction.”
Ramos said the video is evidence that Costello may have just woken up from a nightmare.
Costello had been a wild octopus before he was brought to the lab, and he had missing limbs, likely because of a predator attack. Trauma from that attack may have haunted him in his dreams, Ramos said.
“I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that he was traumatized by really traumatic events and played out some of these things in his sleep,” he said. “It’s still speculation, but it’s one of the least out-there speculations.”
Ramos said he and his colleagues couldn’t find evidence that this type of behavior had been recorded by other researchers. But that doesn’t mean the behavior itself is rare. It’s probably because octopuses aren’t often studied, especially not in a lab where they’re recorded by cameras 24/7, he said.
Scientists already know that octopuses are extremely intelligent animals, he said. Even though they only live about a year-and-a-half, they have an advanced ability to learn new skills and problem-solve, he said.
Ramos said he hopes that this will lead to more studies about animals and how they sleep. But for those who aren’t scientists, it can show us that, as humans, we’re not so different from our counterparts in the animal kingdom.
“I think that this observation should inspire more research into how animals have converged on paths that are similar to us, and that we should probably shake up our thoughts about what being a sentient, smart, conscious, complex animal is,” he said. “What we assume is special in us may not be special because it’s us.”