What if you were walking down the street and smelled a delicious waffle cone of ice cream to your left, but before your brain decided to investigate the smell, you were already reaching out for one?
What if your left hand had its own small brain that could make decisions entirely on its own unless the brain in your head stopped it?
Well, then you’d have a decentralized nervous system, and you just may be one of our favorite seafloor slinkers, the octopus (and you also may be giving the people in that ice cream store a scare)!
So, how smart are octopuses?
It’s difficult to measure octopus intelligence against human intelligence because we evolved to survive in vastly different environments, but what we can investigate is in what way an octopus is intelligent.
Let’s dive in!
Every octopus has two types of brains:
- One centralized brain located behind the octopus eyes
- Eight mini satellite brains in the octopus arms
This allows octopuses to make decisions more quickly than if they only had one brain running the show… But how effective are these mini brains?
Brain Power Times Nine!
With “nine brains”, it’s safe to say octopuses don’t think like humans, but they definitely think. A lot!
It’s been observed that each octopus arm can independently think without guidance from the central brain… which means that at any given time, any given octopus arm can:
Imagine tasting eight things at once!
If that’s not impressive enough – when deemed necessary, the central brain can take over and begin controlling the limbs. This means octopus can switch between central and decentralized thinking.
Best of both worlds, huh?
Does that answer the question: how smart are octopuses? Not convinced? Keep reading!
🐙 Octopus Fun Fact
An octopus’ central brain is shaped like a donut! Yummy? Um… maybe not.
Woah- That’s impressive for a sea creature
So what does having nine brains mean in terms of intelligence? We only know what we’ve observed, but these creatures have been found to accomplish some pretty amazing feats.
Legend has it that security cameras once captured an octopus showing off both master planning AND a bit of daring!
The octopus in question was being observed in a lab environment. Nearby, their were tanks full of feeder crab, which, to the curiosity of researchers, kept vanishing!
What the security camera revealed was that each night when researchers left, the octopus would:
- Slip from its tank
- Crawl to the crab tank
- Open it
- Eat the crab
- And then return back to its tank to eat it’s snack! (midnight fridge trip anyone? lol)
Okay- that’s WILD and SO AWESOME! We are officially obceph’d!!! How bout you?
Though these qualities of intelligence are difficult to measure, it suggests that octopuses are capable of strategy and maybe even aware of time & routine! Looking forward to more research on octopus intelligence! We’ll keep you in the loop!
So what’s the answer, smart guy?
How smart are octopuses?
Well, ultimately, there isn’t one type of intelligence that reigns supreme in the animal kingdom so much as intellect, which helps animals survive in a myriad of ways.
What we do know, though, is that compared to us, these creatures can use their brains in ways we’d never have imagined!
🐙 Octopus Fun Fact
If you loved learning about how smart an octopus is, check out this post and learn everything there is to know about octopus brains!
If you want to educate yourself some more about all sorts of different cephalopods, take a look at our encyclopedia. Or, what we call it, our Octopedia!
Connect with other octopus lovers via the OctoNation Facebook group, OctopusFanClub.com! Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with the conservation, education, and ongoing research of cephalopods.
More FAQs To Read:
Ari Miller is a contributing writer for OctoNation!