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“8-Armed Bullies Of The Sea” Punch Fish Just Because They Can

Written by: Molly Weinfurter
Molly Weinfurter is a writer for iHeartDogs, and she’s passionate about helping animals in need. She volunteers for Bailing Out Benji and a local dog rescue.Read more
| Published on January 5, 2021

As it turns out, humans aren’t the only ones to get into fights over something spiteful. New research shows that octopuses do it too! After all, it makes sense because they have eight arms to punch with.

On several occasions, octopuses were spotted punching fish, particularly the fish they were hunting with. In some instances, the fish probably deserved the punch. But in other cases, the punches seem completely uncalled for. So, is it possible that octopuses are simply doing this to bully the fish? Or is there a deeper reason to it?

Image: @JACK969Van/Facebook

Spiteful Octopus Punches

Researcher Eduardo Sampaio observed these octopus punches first-hand. When he first witnessed it, he burst out laughing, which almost caused him to choke on his scuba equipment. Then, he turned to Twitter to share this amazing discovery, which was recently published in the journal Ecology.

Octopuses will often work with fish to hunt and find food more effectively. Hunting together allows them to cover more area with octopuses looking for prey among the rocks and fish swimming around above. But sometimes, octopuses get annoyed with their teammates, much like humans do at stressful jobs. So, to express themselves, octopuses will sometimes punch their fish companions.

“The fish would get pushed to the edge of the group, or would actually leave the group. Sometimes after a while it would return, other times it would not return at all. The octopus would leave the fish alone after displacing it,” said Sampaio.

Octopuses have been known to throw punches when in danger, but these random, casual punches are news to researchers. The truth is that these two species are solely partners and not friends. So, they may act in ways that only benefit themselves at times.

Octopus with fish
Image: Screenshot, GeoBeats Science YouTube

Why Do Octopuses Punch Fish?

Some octopuses seem to have a good reason for punching fish while others seem to do it just for fun. Sampaio explained that during these hunting sessions, octopuses will only look out for themselves. Their hunting partners can easily be discarded if the octopus doesn’t need their help.

“Despite collaborating, each partner will always try to maximize its benefits,” Sampaio said. “In the cases where prey is readily available, the octopus seems to use ‘punching’ as a way to control the partner’s behavior in a self-serving way.”

But not all octopuses punch to knock fish out of the way. Instead, some seem to do it just because they’re annoyed or because they feel like it. Some researchers suggest that octopuses punch because it’s easier than actually cooperating with the fish. Others believe that they punch to punish the fish, which might make the fish better partners in the future. Any explanations for these behaviors are speculative though.

Researchers will continue to observe these octopus behaviors in hopes of getting their questions answered. They want to know what context can lead to a fish getting punched and if there are certain fish species that octopuses prefer to punch. While we can’t make any definite conclusions yet, we can assume one thing for sure: octopuses are spiteful creatures that you probably don’t want to mess with.

Watch Some Octopus Punches Here:

Featured Image: @JACK969Van/Facebook

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