New research shows how octopuses may have evolved

By | 27/10/2022

Michael, anile 14, asks:

If the faster role of human development is over, and squids and octopuses continue to evolve, could there be an apocalypse where the cephalopods take over the earth?

If they continue to get smarter, octopuses would exist much more suited as conquerors of Earth because they could live nearly anywhere. They have abilities similar to what we would call superpowers: they can fit into any hole that fits their beak, they tin can camouflage, they tin can regenerate their lost limbs and more. If and when they eradicate humans, they would be better suited to space travel. In orbit, they could manoeuvre much more easily and fit in smaller spaces.

So if they simply started evolving a smarter brain, what stops all this from happening? Why has this not happened already? Why have so few creatures evolved an intelligent brain?

As Michael points out, octopuses are famous for their alien-like abilities, from regrowing damaged arms to changing their skin color and texture. They use this colour-shifting ability to cover-up and, interestingly, as a strange visual language to talk to other octopuses.

A little known fact is they actually vest to a category of animals (phylum) chosen Mollusca, which is largely fabricated up of snails. Yep, octopuses are like souped-up snails who lost their shells and grew a rather large encephalon. The coolest thing nigh them is their intelligence, which evolved completely independently from our own.

An octopus escapes a gunkhole through a tiny pigsty.

They use tools to solve bug (like us) and they can open child-proof containers (not always like usa). And simply last week, inquiry found a cuttlefish (another cephalopod, cousins of octopuses) passed an intelligence test designed for toddlers that showed they have advanced self command.

Humans no incertitude have a lot more to learn well-nigh what these mysterious creatures are capable of. Just what we do know tin can start to answer Michael’due south first-class question: could octopuses one mean solar day rule the earth?

(Before we go farther we should state the plural of octopus is “octopuses” — not necessarily “octopi” — given the word has Greek rather than Latin routes.)

Large orange octopus

The behemothic Pacific octopus tin abound to almost v metres across.


Big-brained just short-lived

Let’s first consider their nervous system. Like us, octopus have big brains compared to their trunk size – easily the biggest of all invertebrates (animals without a courage) and of comparable size to many vertebrates, such as frogs.

It is, however, hard to compare brain size betwixt marine animals and land animals, because the laws of physics differ in water and air. Animals are weightless in h2o but on land body shape and size is limited past gravity.

An octopus encephalon is made up of nigh 500 million brain cells (neurons). This is vii times more than a mouse and most the same as a marmoset monkey. Humans, on the other hand, have 86 billion brain cells.

An octopus changing colour and texture.

Testing octopus intelligence can be a problem, because the animals frequently outsmart scientists. For example, scientists tin struggle to get an octopus to solve a maze, because they often climb out and clamber over the pinnacle to reach their food reward. And that’s assuming they oasis’t already escaped from their aquarium abode and are crawling around the lab.

Different the states though, octopuses don’t live for very long. The behemothic Pacific octopus might alive upwardly to five years, merely most live for simply a year and some as little as 6 months. They hatch from eggs fully formed and ready to go. They never meet their parents and have to larn everything on their own.

And so yes, octopuses have big brains and are crazy-smart. But could they accept over the world if they kept evolving?

Why they evolve then slowly

Compared to other species, octopuses actually evolve actually, really slowly. There are about 300 unlike species of octopus, which accept been effectually for at least 300 million years. In that fourth dimension, they haven’t changed much.

Modern humans, past comparison, have simply existed for 200,000 years and in that time, have taken over the planet (and badly damaged it in the procedure).

An orange octopus with vibrant blue circles

A blue-ringed octopus, a highly venomous species found in tide pools and coral reefs.


Development occurs when the Dna code is gradually inverse in small steps over vast amounts of time. But octopus have a unique method of actively editing their RNA molecules instead. RNA are messages sent from Dna, which tells genes what to practice and when.

The ability to edit RNA means they can arrange chop-chop to new problems, bypassing the demand for long-term changes to occur in the DNA — the standard evolutionary process most living things follow. Scientists retrieve this rule-breaking approach may exist a reason why octopuses evolve so slowly, and why they are one of the brainiest beasties in the ocean.

Baca juga: Octopuses tin can defy their genetic instructions – and information technology’s slowed down their evolution

But lets face it. Despite all their tricks, octopuses are still working from a snail blueprint, and there’south only and so much you can do with that toolbox. They are likewise highly constrained by their very short life-span.

And then, the first item on an evil octopus to-practice list for taking over the earth is to live well beyond your first birthday. 2d on the list might be to develop “cumulative civilization” by learning from others similar humans practice. We already know an octopus tin can acquire by watching other octopuses, just as yet we don’t take evidence of culture.

Very few creatures brandish intelligence comparable to humans and understanding why is a long-standing scientific question. The most probable explanation is that brain tissue is extremely expensive to maintain, in terms of energy required to go along encephalon cells firing. And so there demand to be big benefits to justify the expense.

Octopus camoflaging with coral

Octopuses can featherbed standard evolution.

Vlad Tchompalov/Unsplash, CC Past

Scientists recollect ane do good of having a big encephalon is so humans tin can keep runway of circuitous social relationships (octopuses, on the other hand, are soliltary) and develop culture. Nature tends to provide animals with just enough smarts to get by, and nothing more than.

They might exercise OK in infinite

Its hard to imagine an octopus ever evolving to take over the state. Octopus have no hard parts other than their beak. So while they
move on land, with no bones to hold them up against gravity, they really struggle.

They too have gills which need water to pass over them to breathe. Strangely, they can also “breathe” using their skin. When resting, nigh forty% of their oxygen comes from the water passing over their pare rather than their gills. Trouble is that just works while the skin is wet.

Baca juga: Clever cuttlefish testify advanced self-control, like chimps and crows

But because they alive in water and octopuses are neutrally buoyant (they neither float nor sink), gravity is largely irrelevant. This ways they would do rather well in space where there’south no gravity — assuming they could accept water with them.

In short, octopuses are very intelligent animals and one of the smartest creatures in the ocean. Merely their short life span and vulnerabilities on country are serious handicaps when it comes to taking over the world.

The Conversation, for i, welcomes any new cephalopod overlords