Octopuses are truly fascinating creatures. Bilaterally symmetrical cephalopod molluscs of the order Octopoda (meaning eight legged) they have intrigued and horrified the human ape since earliest times.
A recent post at The Steampunk Journal relates the imminent arrival of thousands of octopuses to the shores of New Zealand, where they go to breed. The post also makes reference to their extraordinary intelligence.
Thinking about their intelligence, I heard from a zoologist of my acquaintance a singularly interesting account pertaining to that very question. For a certain period she was undertaking research at a well known aquarium. This aquarium housed an octopus of considerable proportions in a large tank.
Now, this marine monster had quite a reputation amongst the staff. Many of them swore that its eye would follow them about their business, watching with uncanny intelligence. Eventually it was noted that fish from neighbouring tanks were disappearing over night. However, none could well determine the cause of the vanishing fish as upon inspection in the morning everything was discovered exactly as it had been left the night before. No locks had been broken, no windows forced open. It was assumed, you see, this aquarium being host to certain highly prized exotics, that a thief operating on behalf of some unscrupulous collector was at work.
The police were called in to investigate but the trail was quite cold and they declared themselves stumped as to the cause. Meanwhile, night after night, the fish population continued to decrease until the proprietors of the establishment feared for its continued viability.
It was at that stage my acquaintance determined to stay in the aquarium after hours and catch the culprit red-handed. Once the last visitor had left and the watchman locked up for the night, she settled herself on a deck chair with a flask of strong coffee by her side and prepared for a long vigil.
It so chanced that she had positioned herself well within view of the octopus tank. Thus she observed, shortly after the nearby church clock struck the third hour of the morning, the casing over the aforementioned tank lifted up by cunning tentacles and set carefully to one side. Thereupon, the beast hauled itself dripping from the tank and, by means of extraordinary muscular strength and determination, insinuated itself into the neighboring tanks, scooping up the multicolored marine rarities and making a fair feast of them. My acquaintance was so captured by her astonishment at witnessing such a curious occurrence that she failed to act until, having completed its nocturnal repast, the animal returned to its own tank and carefully replaced the casing.
The following day arrangements were made to secure the casing at night and the mysterious assassinations of fish promptly ceased.
There may be those among my readers who would consider this story fanciful and I would have thought so myself had I not heard it from a most reliable and trustworthy source. For reasons of discretion I shall refrain from naming her. Sufficient to say that she is now a highly respected member of the Royal Institution.
It is, perhaps, a sobering thought for us to consider the manifold expressions of intelligence that Mother Nature has contrived, albeit in ways and forms that we, as simple apes, do not readily recognize.
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