Animals

Watch a Clever Scottish Octopus' Return to the Sea

An aquarium lesser octopus with a penchant for puzzles gets her chance to find a mate and complete her life cycle.

Photo: Marine biologist Dr. Lauren Smith prepares to release Macduff Marine Aquarium's favorite octopus. Credit: Macduff Marine Aquarium Scotland's Macduff Marine Aquarium recently documented the release of a lesser octopus (Eledone cirhossa), in fascinating footage that culminates with the female cephalopod disappearing into the background as she switches on her "camo" mode.

Accidental catch, the octopus had been donated to the aquarium by a local fisherman. She had been the star attraction at an exhibit dedicated to educating aquarium visitors about the lesser octopus (also known as the curled octopus, for its habit of curling up its tentacles during rest time). It's a fairly common sight in Scottish waters but a species the aquarium feels deserves more attention and study, compared with the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) and the Giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini).

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After a stay of 6 months at the aquarium, though, staff there decided to set her back in the sea. The lifespan of a lesser octopus is on the short side, and they thought she should have a chance to hit the open waters and find a mate. This video tells that story in fine detail:

While at the aquarium, the octopus provided biologists the chance to study her kind.

"Relatively little work has been done, particularly in relation to cognition, on the lesser octopus, the most prevalent species on the Scottish coastline," the aquarium wrote in a press release.

Indeed, the octopus consistently wowed staff and visitors alike with her smarts. Staff at the aquarium kept her engaged by giving her mazes and puzzles to solve and watched her retrieve snacks from closed jars ("a task once thought to be too complex for the lesser octopus," said the aquarium). All of which highlighted the intelligence and problem-solving skills for which octopuses are well known.

"She was very fast at learning new puzzles," aquarium marine biologist Dr. Lauren Smith told Discovery News. "We would introduce things in stages, starting off with relatively easy tasks and then increasing the difficulty. She would usually just need one attempt with a new puzzle before she learned what to do when it was presented to her the next time."

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Now it's time for the star pupil to find a mate. While the estimated lifespan of a lesser octopus is usually around 1 to 5 years, according to Smith it could be more like 18 months, based on prior research about the creature's life in Scottish waters (by University of Aberdeen professor Peter Boyle).

She's in luck, as far as her surroundings go, said Smith.

"The habitat is ideal for her out in the Moray Firth, with rocky overhangs and dense kelp coverage, which prevents larger predators such as cod and seals from getting in too close," Smith said, adding that the octopus' favorite food, green shore crab, is plentiful in those waters.

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"I have seen other octopus of the same species when out diving along the coast," said Smith, "so hopefully she will find a mate too."

If she does find a mate, she will lay her eggs and then stay with them until they hatch, never leaving them even to feed herself. True to her species, she will die soon after the eggs hatch.

VIEW PHOTOS: A Smart Octopus Is Released Back into Scottish Waters

The octopus is transferred from a bucket into a secure container by aquarist Dr. Lauren Smith, so the animal can be carried down into the sea and then released.

Dr. Smith gets ready to pop the lid and set the octopus free.

The lid is opened and the small cephalopod squirts up into the wide-open water.

Here the octopus heads for the kelp. Soon she will magically blend in with her surroundings and virtually disappear. Good luck, little one!