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Aliens, Biology, Strange

Octopus as alien: three hearts, nine brains, blue blood, and …

Why are aliens in most science fiction so human-like? An intelligent alien species may be more realistically as different from humans as octopuses.

An octopus has three hearts, nine brains, and blue blood. Two hearts pump blood to the gills, while a third circulates it to the rest of the body. The nervous system includes a central brain and a large ganglion at the base of each arm which controls movement. Their blood contains the copper-rich protein hemocyanin, which is more efficient than hemoglobin for oxygen transport at very low temperatures and low oxygen concentrations.


The octopus (Greek Októpus meaning eight foot) is a cephalopod mollusk that belongs to the order Octopoda. This animal has 4 pairs of arms, 2 eyes, a beak within a mouth at the center of the arms, and has no internal or external skeleton (though some retain a remnant of a shell within the mantle).


Octopuses have a complex nervous system and excellent sight, and are among the most intelligent and behaviourally diverse of all invertebrates. …

Octopuses offer many possibilities in biological research, including their ability to regenerate limbs, change the colour of their skin, behave intelligently with a distributed nervous system, and make use of 168 kinds of protocadherins (humans have 58), the proteins that guide the connections neurons make with each other. The California two-spot octopus has had its genome sequenced, allowing exploration of its molecular adaptations.

Having independently evolved mammal-like intelligence, octopuses have been compared to hypothetical intelligent extraterrestrials.

Their problem-solving skills, along with their mobility and lack of rigid structure enable them to escape from supposedly secure tanks in laboratories and public aquariums.

Due to their intelligence, octopuses are listed in some countries as experimental animals on which surgery may not be performed without anesthesia, a protection usually extended only to vertebrates. In the UK from 1993 to 2012, the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) was the only invertebrate protected under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. In 2012, this legislation was extended to include all cephalopods in accordance with a general EU directive.


Crabs, the staple food source of most octopus species, present significant challenges with their powerful pincers and their potential to exhaust the cephalopod’s respiration system from a prolonged pursuit.

In the face of these challenges, octopuses will instead seek out lobster traps and steal the bait inside. They are also known to climb aboard fishing boats and hide in the containers that hold dead or dying crabs.

This octopus ambushed a crab on land and dragged it back into the water.

The video made me wonder how long they can stay out of water. Answer: If out of direct sunlight and conditions are wet, an octopus can stay out for five minutes or more. It is interesting to see them move on land.

Here are a few more things I found interesting:

Dexterity, an ability essential for tool use and manipulation, is also found in cephalopods. The highly sensitive suction cups and prehensile arms of octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish allow them to hold and manipulate objects. However, unlike vertebrates, the motor skills of octopuses do not seem to depend upon mapping their body within their brains, as the ability to organize complex movements is not thought to be linked to particular arms.
At the Sea Star Aquarium in Coburg, Germany, an octopus named Otto was known to juggle his fellow tankmates around, as well as throw rocks and smash the aquarium glass. On more than one occasion, Otto even caused short circuits by crawling out of his tank and shooting a jet of water at the overhead lamp.

… Another example of cephalopod intelligence is the communication that takes place between the more social species of squid. Some cephalopods are capable of rapid changes in skin colour and pattern through nervous control of chromatophores. This ability almost certainly evolved primarily for camouflage, but squid use colour, patterns, and flashing to communicate with each other in various courtship rituals. Caribbean reef squid can send one message using colour patterns to a squid on their right, while they send another message to a squid on their left.


After years of surprising scientists with their cleverness and smarts, some octopuses appear to also use tools.

Veined octopuses observed off the coast of Indonesia carried coconut shell halves under their bodies, and assembled them as necessary into shelters — something that wasn’t supposed to be possible in their corner of the animal kingdom.

… In captivity, some species of octopuses have solved mazes, remembered cues and passed other cognitive tests typically associated with advanced vertebrates. More anecdotally, they’re known for popping aquarium hoods, raiding other tanks and demonstrating what might be called mischief.


Octopus brains and vertebrate brains have no common anatomy but support a variety of similar features, including forms of short- and long-term memory, versions of sleep, and the capacities to recognize individual people and explore objects through play.


… a new study reveals that both male and female octopuses frequently communicate with each other in challenging displays that include posturing and changing color. … To decode the octopuses’ social “language,” the scientists captured and screened 52 hours of footage of the Octopus tetricus species. …

“Because octopuses were known to kill each other at times and be cannibalistic, the general sense is that they wouldn’t interact a lot and wouldn’t use signals,” David Scheel, the study’s first author, told Live Science. But Scheel, who is a professor of marine biology at Alaska Pacific University, had already found a scattering of reports from prior studies that suggested “there was another story going on,” he said.

… They observed one posture repeatedly — when the octopus would “stand tall,” extending its arms outward and drawing itself upward. An octopus that was standing tall would usually also display a dark color and raise its mantle, all of which, the researchers said, appeared to signify aggression toward another octopus. Other cephalopods, like cuttlefish, are known to assume a darker color during disputes, with males displaying a “dark face.” If two male cuttlefish show each other dark faces, the confrontation usually turns physical, while if only one of the males puts on his dark face, the paler-faced cuttlefish typically backs down, a behavior pattern strikingly similar to the one the researchers observed in the octopuses’ color displays.

One of the most surprising things that Scheel saw in the videos was how the octopuses used a piece of flotsam embedded in the silt at the study site, he said. It stuck up higher than the surrounding seafloor, and a displaying octopus would sometimes climb up on top of it to perform the “stand tall” posture.


As far as biological differences, while we share DNA with octopuses, octopuses differ from us in another startling way: for millions of years they have had the ability to edit their own RNA. This allows them to adapt in ways and at speeds we cannot.

Octopuses are aliens living on Earth. They solve puzzles, use tools, and communicate with color. They also squirt ink, open jars, and occasionally pull a prank or two. Given their remarkable intelligence and cunning ways, it takes a lot to surprise the biologists who study these wonderful creatures and their equally weird cousins the squids and cuttlefish.

But when Stanford University geneticist Jin Billy Li heard about Joshua Rosenthal’s work on RNA editing in squid, his jaw dropped. That’s because the work, published today in the journal Cell, revealed that many cephalopods present a monumental exception to how living things use the information in DNA to make proteins. In nearly every other animal, RNA—the middleman in that process—faithfully transmits the message in the genes. But octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish (but not their dumber relatives, the nautiluses) edit their RNA, changing the message that gets read out to make proteins. …

Perhaps RNA editing, adopted as a means of creating a more sophisticated brain, allowed these species to use tools, camouflage themselves, and communicate.


Consider this: If we use the octopus as a model for how we would interact with an intelligent alien race, the unfortunate reality is that our species may try to eat them long before we realize they are intelligent.

Turn that around and you can see why some scientists are pessimistic about peaceful contact with extraterrestrial intelligences. They may try to eat us long before they realize we are sometimes intelligent.

Another option is that they may care about our different kind of intelligence as little as we care about the different kind intelligence of the octopuses we eat daily.

There are strange old tales of giant octopuses eating humans, but true or not we humans remain the earth’s top killer of other humans, right? Not so. Humans are bested by one other animal. Can you guess? It’s not the octopus.

That’s right, it’s the giant human-sized mosquito pictured in the above illustration. It kills 725,000 humans per year! May you never meet this massive blood sucking demon.


About Xeno

E pluribus unum.


One thought on “Octopus as alien: three hearts, nine brains, blue blood, and …

  1. Fascinating !

    Posted by Soul Gifts | 21 Nov 2017, 4:12 pm

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