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Female Octopuses Throw Shells At Males Who Harass Them, According to Scientists

Female Octopuses Throw Shells At Males Who Harass Them, According to Scientists

When researchers from the U.S., Canada, and Australia studied these videos of the wild creatures, they found that females were more likely to throw things than males.

What do you do when men make unwanted advances at you? While the answer might differ from person to person, female octopuses have been very consistent in their behavior. According to the Independent, these eight-legged creatures have been seen throwing shells, silt, and algae at their male counterparts. This behavior was observed in the footage of octopuses dwelling off the coast of Australia. The creatures "coordinated use of the arms, the web, and jets of water from the siphon, that results in material being forcibly projected through the water column, sometimes hitting other octopuses."



 

 

When researchers from the U.S., Canada, and Australia studied these videos of the wild creatures, they found that females were more likely to throw things than males. Proving this observation is one such instance from December 2016, when a single female octopus threw things 10 times at a male in an adjacent den, according to New Scientist. Five of the ten materials hit the other octopus, that scientists believe had been making several attempts to mate with her. "All ten of the female’s throws were entirely or partly silt throws. In one hit, the female’s preparatory motions included a turn towards the male ... bringing the male directly into the path of the throw," they explained in the preprint research paper titled In the Line of Fire: Debris Throwing by Wild Octopuses.

Representative image source: Getty | Photo by Pakkawit Anantaya / EyeEm

"This sequence is also notable for the behaviors of the male who was the apparent target of the hits," they added, noting how the male behaves in response to the throws. "In four cases the male ducked during the process of the throw itself, and over the course of the sequence, these movements occurred earlier in relation to the throw. In the first two cases, the target ducked after the release of the throw; in the latter two, he ducked before the release, during preparatory motions by the thrower." In yet another instance, researchers found other octopuses had raised their arms in the direction of the thrower but they did not duck. 

Representative image source: Getty | Photo by Paul Bradbury

In some cases, fishes were hit instead of octopuses. Surprisingly, the octopuses which were hit were not seen "returning fire" by throwing back the shells or silt. Throwing objects at other creatures is not a common behavior seen among all animals, though it is something that elephants, mongooses, birds, chimps, and capuchins are known to do. "It’s pretty rare. Especially rare is throwing of objects at other members of the same population," explained Peter Godfrey-Smith at the University of Sydney in 2015. Actions similar to throwing objects have also been observed in other species of animals like archerfish that squirts water and even the flickering of irritating hair by spiders. At this point, you may be wondering what the significance of this gesture is.



 

 

Well, throwing—which is generally considered an action performed by humans specifically—is a gesture that played an important role in our evolution. That being said, researchers considered it as a common thing among octopuses. "The throwing of material by wild octopuses is common, at least at the site described here. These throws are achieved by gathering material and holding it in the arms, then expelling it under pressure," they explained. "Force is not imparted by the arms, as in a human throw, but the arms organize the projection of material by the jet."

Concluding their observation, they noted that octopuses can, "definitely be added to the short list of animals who regularly throw or propel objects, and provisionally added to the shorter list of those who direct their throws on other animals...If they are indeed targeted, these throws are directed at individuals of the same population in social interactions – the least common form of nonhuman throwing."

References:

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2287879-female-octopuses-throw-things-at-males-that-are-harassing-them/

https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/female-octopus-shells-target-male-b1910682.html

Cover image source: YouTube Screenshot | New Scientist

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