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Living in a fishbowl isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Three squares a day, moody lighting, and a never-ending parade of ugly-but-clever apes tapping on the glass. But life gets dull. There are only so many hiding spots, the gravel is only so deep, and that plastic diver isn’t getting any more attractive.

Combining their mad Houdini skills with unearthly intelligence, octopodes are notorious for causing mischief. Many FOAFtales litter the internet of nightly jaunts to snack on neighbors. They use tools, care for their young, and show empathy. Take this passage from Sy Montgomery’s delightful The Soul of an Octopus. Anna, a volunteer with Asperger’s Syndrome at the New England Aquarium, is having a hard time coping after her best friend’s suicide, and the staff encourages her to play with a wild-caught octopus named Octavia.

She was working that Wednesday in Cold Marine when Dave suggested she might want to play with Octavia. “At that point,” Anna wrote me, “I had already taken her out more times than I could count, and I felt like I knew her pretty well. I think she sensed something was wrong. She was a lot gentler than she usually was, and she had her tentacles on my shoulders. It’s hard to explain why I think she understood… After interacting with an animal lots of times, you get to understand what the usual behavior is and what it does in different situations.

Observations and anecdotes like these suggest there’s something more going on than mere instinct and conditioning. Patrick Lee at The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco respects their intelligence, knowing happy critters mean happy visitors. He illustrates his maverick approach to engaging the strange in the video below.

So, maybe, the next time you’re out for sushi, give the takoyaki a pass. There’s a chance octopodes might return the favor when human sashimi is on the menu.

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