There is an animal out there that will steal your shoes, play catch with a ball, and can look at you with intelligent eyes, but you probably wouldn’t want this one as a pet…
It’s come to light that many of our assumptions about large brains have been off the mark. The human brain is a centralized organ inside the head that controls and manages all the functions of the human body. Involuntary, voluntary, emotion, or logic, it’s all made in one spot. The human brain is a pretty large size considering our body; it’s almost twice as large as it should be. We’re pretty smart, but what if we networked a bunch of brains? Would we be even smarter? Right now we can solve puzzles and mazes, we can open jars and use tools, we can steal things and hide from predators, we can play with toys, we can recognize faces, and a bunch of other stuff. But an octopus? They can do all that too! Slowly, humans have been finding out that the animals around us are a lot smarter than we thought.
The lowly octopus is kind of like an animal genius. Octopi share a common ancestor with humans from 750 million years back: a worm with eye spots. But, while humans keep the brain in one spot, octopi do not. They only have about 500 million neurons, which is 1/20th of what our brains have. The brain of an octopus works like an internet of brains! Their main CPU is only the size of a walnut, but each of their 8 arms carry packets of neurons too. This network of brains enable an octopus to approach the power of one central brain. Researchers think each of the collections of neurons in the arms can carry out instructions independently and think for themselves. The suckers can attach to things, exert forces, and even smell stuff. For example, octopi have learned how to open sealable jars that are hard to open for some adult humans! Plus, these octopi aren’t taught to use tools. They are solitary creatures and don’t have social groups. They only live for about 5 years. If you left a 4-year-old human alone with a prescription bottle full of candy, what would happen? An octopus would have that thing right open!
Not long ago we considered animals just dumb creatures here for toys and entertainment. But, the closer we look, the more we find that as they evolved alongside us they gained skills that seem pretty intelligent. Tool use, forethought, reasoning and puzzle-solving skills have been observed in elephants, chimpanzees, dolphins, birds, and octopi. We may have made our awesome brains do a lot for us, but some of the animals we share the planet with are not so far behind.