A Subsea Arms Race? Amidst Turf Disputes, Australian Octopuses Deploy Shells, Rocks and Seaweed

by Owen James Burke


Above: Octopuses tangle in Australia’s Jervis Bay. Photo: Peter Godfrey-Smith (CUNY and University of Sydney), David Scheel (Alaska Pacific University), Stefan Linquist (University of Guelph) and Matthew Lawrence.

Biologists are unsure of the status of the world’s octopus populations. Being heavily dispersed, generally solitary creatures, they’re practically impossible to count.

In Jervis Bay, Australia, there’s no need for a tally. The common Sydney octopus, also known as the gloomy octopus (Octopus tetricus), has become so crowded that researchers are filming scuffles involving several individuals at a time, presumably over territory.

Conflicts seem to be escalating so much that they are making projectiles of objects like rocks and shells and launching them at one another with surprising precision, a behavior that appears to have been previously undocumented.

Watch video footage below:

If the octopuses of Jervis Bay are indeed engaging in detrital warfare, they would be among a select few animals known to exhibit the use of projectiles as weapons.

As for an “octopus takeover,” says CUNY Marine Biologist Peter Godfrey-Smith, who is studying the cephalopods in Jervis Bay, he thinks the prospects “are still fairly remote at present.”

So, we humans still have that much going for us.

Listen to the story below, and over to NPR for more. –OJB

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