Octopuses are one of the most intelligent marine animals. Their brains are large relative to their size. They also have much larger nervous systems and greater cognitive complexity than most invertebrates.
The majority of their neurons are found in their arms, which can independently taste, touch and control basic motions without input from the brain.
Wild versus human care
In the wild, octopuses, like most marine animals, spend much of their energy and time searching for food and mates while avoiding predation. Other than hunting, they have also been observed stacking rocks to protect the entrances to their dens, and hiding themselves inside coconut shell halves, a testament of their intelligence.
However under human care, food and mates are often obtainable without much effort, and predation pressure are nearly non-existent. This may leave the animals without activities that normally take up their time.
The importance of enrichment
Like humans, the octopus has short- and long-term memory, which makes them pretty good at solving puzzles and mazes.
By introducing environmental enrichment (adding foreign objects like toys, puzzles and food), we can maintain healthy activity levels for the octopus, alleviate space restrictions, and encourage normal behaviours exhibited in the wild.
Such enrichment activities benefit the physical and mental well-being of the animal by providing it with something new to “think about” as they explore through play.
Enrichment for Ollie the Giant Pacific Octopus
Ollie, our 2-year-old male Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) which arrived at the aquarium in January 2018, is provided with various enrichment tools and activities, such as puzzles, obstacles, toys and food.
The ultimate goal of these enrichment activities is to engage Ollie in exploratory activities, encouraging it to do so even after the enrichment session has ended.
Predicting the world’s new football champion
With football fever currently in full swing, we decided to add a football twist to Ollie’s enrichment activity: predict the football champion-to-be.
An acrylic maze was inserted into its habitat with two pieces of fresh crab placed at two corners of the maze. Each corner was labelled with the country flag of a team competing in the finals. The corner that Ollie picked the crab from would be deemed the winner.
In just 10 minutes, Ollie predicted that Les Bleus will bring home the most coveted trophy in football, as seen in this video:
Will France really emerge the world champion on 15 July 2018? We’ll find out.
[Updated on 16 July 2018]
Ollie was right! France was crowned the champion. Way to go, Ollie!