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Octopus art

Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn

Okay, maybe not Cthulhu. But one of his minions might just have been caught dreaming in the video excerpt below, taken from the PBS documentary Octopus: Making Contact.

The documentary follows Alaskan marine biologist Dr David Scheel as he raises and studies an octopus in his home, “making remarkable discoveries about its extraordinary intelligence, personality and skills”.

In the video excerpt, which captures the octopus cycling through various color combinations and skin textures while asleep, Scheel takes a guess at what it might be dreaming about – if it is indeed dreaming.

If it is dreaming, it’s in itself remarkable, as octopuses are almost completely separate from mammals evolutionarily speaking: the last common denominator between us and the cephalopods was 600 million years ago, before the vertebrates and invertebrates diverged – and that was just a worm with very few neurons.

And yet we do know that octopuses display what appear to be rapid eye movements, which are suggestive of a dreaming state. And the video below gives even more weight to that possibility.

Last night I witnessed something I’ve never seen recorded before. You know if she is dreaming, this is a dramatic moment. You could almost just narrate the body changes. And narrate the dream. So here she’s asleep, she sees a crab and her color starts to change a little bit. Then she turns all dark – octopuses will do that when they leave the bottom. This is a camouflage, like she’s just subdued a crab and now she’s going to sit there and eat it, and she doesn’t want anyone to notice her.

It’s a very unusual behavior to see the color come and go on her mantle like that. I mean just to be able to see all the different color patterns just flashing one after another. You don’t usually see that when an animal’s sleeping. This really is fascinating.

But yeah, if she’s dreaming, that’s the dream.

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