Archive for the 'Squishies (Mollusks)' Category

Aww, I hurt Squid-Man’s delicate feelings

PZ Myers, my original science blogging hero, was disturbed by the video I posted (gloatingly) of some Stomatopod on Cephalopod ass-whooping.

You know, the rotten little crunchy, jointed thing wouldn’t have stood a chance if he’d been fighting within his own weight-class. I found this video on a blog called Arthropoda — a clearly biased advocacy site for violence on molluscs by the world’s dominant, bullying metazoans. -PZ

OK, let’s give the squishy a size advantage over my favorite mantis shrimp, Hemisquilla californiensis.

Ha-Ha! Run for your life, softy!

Seriously though, I am very suspicious of that video. The octopus seems lethargic and completely uninterested in the mantis shrimp. I get the feeling that the filmmakers are constantly pushing the octopus back towards the burrow as it is trying to get away.

Regardless, the score is still:

Maybe this will make the Tentacled-One feel better though…

NOOOOOOOOOooooooooo......... Photo: Roy Caldwell

We don’t get to see for certain that the mantis shrimp in that photo gets eaten. Personally, I imagine a Rocky IV-style, final round recovery from the crustacean.

Unlucky Octopus

Check out this brutal video from Roy Caldwell’s Lab at UC Berkeley. It shows the ‘interaction’ between a mantis shrimp (Odotodactylus scyllarus) and a blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata), when the latter is introduced into the mantis shrimp’s tank. Both of these animals occur amongst coral reef rubble in the Western Pacific, so it’s possible that they often meet in the wild. Take a look at what happens when they do…

Well, that didn’t go so well for the unfortunate octopus. Take that, squishies!

It’s unknown how the stomatopod copes with the venom of the blue-ring as it kills and devours the cephalopod.

You can learn more about keeping your own murderous mantis shrimp at Roy’s List.

This is awesome: Horizontal gene transfer from a plant to an animal

There are some well known examples of horizontal gene transfer. Retroviruses have inserted massive amounts of their genes into host genomes and bacteria of different species are well know for swapping genes. Similarly, mitochondria and chloroplasts in eukaryotic cells, which are likely the result of ancient endosymbiosis, retain a small independent genome, but have transferred the majority of their genes to the host nucleus. However, this process was previously unheard of in multicellular organisms. Enter the Gastropod Mollusk, Elysia chlorotica, which lends biological truth to its nickname, “the crawling leaf”.

Continue reading ‘This is awesome: Horizontal gene transfer from a plant to an animal’

Not impressed with “coconut octopus”

A video and paper in Current Biology about a veined octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, that carries coconut halves to deploy as a shelter has gotten a lot of play in the popular press. The story is usually accompanied by the claim that this is the first reported case of invertebrate tool use. Maybe this is true amongst the squishies (cephalopods), but I think that arthropods accomplish much more exciting feats of tool use every day.

Coconut octopus, meet coconut crab. Earlier, I talked a little about coconut crabs, mentioning that they use mollusk shells when they are small, and eventually discard them as they grow. They also have an intermediate size behavior where they use hollowed out coconut shells as a shelter. Photos: Finn et al., 2009 and Nancy and Neil.

First a disclaimer: I think cephalopods are awesome. They are probably the second coolest animal group behind mantis shrimp. Also, this video and paper represent a really interesting finding, and any antagonism in this post is meant to be humorous. I only take exception to the tool use claim. I, of course, realize that any assessment of “tool use” is completely dependent on how you define “tool use.” However, even by the researchers own exclusive definition, arthropods still beat their motile mollusk to the punch.

Let’s see how they define tool use in order to exclude the numerous arthropod examples:

…simple behaviours, such as the use of an object (or objects) as shelter, are not generally regarded as tool use, because the shelter is effectively in use all the time, whereas a tool provides no benefit until it is used for a specific purpose. This rules out examples such as the use of gastropod shells by hermit crabs, but includes situations where there is an immediate cost, but a deferred benefit, such as dolphins carrying sponges to protect against abrasion during foraging and where an object is carried around in a non-functional form to be deployed when required.

Actually, I don’t see how this definition even negates hermit crabs from tool use. There is no benefit for the crab in dragging around a heavy shell or coconut on its back while it forages. It is only beneficial later, when the animal wants to rest or block an attack. I would say that is a fairly specific deferred purpose with an immediate cost.

Regardless, there are a bunch of other examples of arthropod tool use that I can pull off the top of my head.

  • Spiders construct structurally elaborate webs as methods of defense as well as prey capture. In addition to the common trap webs, some Gladiator Spiders also make web nets that they hold in their front arms and use to pin prey to the ground.
  • Gonodactyloid mantis shrimp are capable of complex masonry work, chiseling into form and stacking walls of rubble and shells around their lairs. They strongly suggest planning capacities with this behavior.
  • The amphipod Phronima hollows out tunicate carcasses to live inside and drive around in the deep-sea in search of more prey.

Again, calling any of this “tool use” is extremely definition dependent. However, under the above interpretation, I think many arthropods have just as strong a claim to tool use as the octopus. Regardless, squishies and crunchies need to get along so that they can join their tool-using forces to protect us from those goddamn dolphins.


  • Finn et al., 2009. Defensive tool use in a coconut-carrying octopus. Current Biology, 19; 1069.

I have moved.
Arthropoda can now be found here.

Michael Bok is a graduate student studying the visual system of mantis shrimp.

Flickr Photos