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Scientists Discover Octlantis, An Octopus City off the Coast of Australia

There’s a special reason these generally solo cephalopods have decided to cohabitate. 

 

If you’ve ever dreamed of visiting an octopus’s garden like the Beatles song portrays, you might get your chance—if you visit Australia. Common Sydney Octopuses, also known as gloomy octopuses (Octopus tetricus​) were recently found cohabiting in Eastern Australia’s Jervis Bay, at a depth of 10-15m (30-45 ft.).


This particular species can be found roaming the subtropical waters between New Zealand and Australia. It was first thought that they were solitary creatures who only met once a year to mate. Instead, over the course of eight days, researchers found 10-15 of them inhabiting the same space.

The “city” was comprised of a series of dens made out of shells leftover from mealtimes, along with beer bottles and fishing lures. This shell city was founded upon some type of metal slab. It’s too old and encrusted for researchers to tell what it is.

Within and around it, the octopuses interacted, signaling to one another, protecting mates, making art out of leftover shells, starting fights, tossing out roommates, and ignoring undesirable cohorts until they went away. Sounds more like a college dorm than a city. At any rate, the results of this fascinating find were published in the journal, Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology. American and Australian researchers conducted it. Much like the cantankerous New Yorker, the gloomy octopus might be irritable due to the cramped conditions found in its murky metropolis.

These creatures are known to be temperamental already, and they're thought to crave solitude. Mother octopuses after mating and tending to her eggs, will take off once they’ve hatched, leaving the hatchlings to fend for themselves, which is why the discovery of Octlantis is so surprising. Although, it's in fact the second “octopus city” to be discovered. The first was Octopolis in 2009, which is in close proximity to this one. That one’s 17m (approx. 55.8 ft.) deep.

A sketch of Octatlantis. Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology.

“These observations demonstrate that high-density occupation and complex social behaviors are not unique to the earlier described site,” researchers wrote. Discovering this second location has made them rethink their stance on octopus social behavior, particularly since generations of octopuses have been found at each site.

According to the report, finding two sites “suggest that social interactions are more wide spread among octopuses than previously recognized.” Studying these creatures isn’t easy. They're very smart and elusive. They can blend in very well with their environment and fit themselves in the snuggest of spaces. You need to have a lot of experience in order to hunt them.

What sticks out is, octopuses make piles of discarded shells—called midden piles. These can help you spot their lair. Otherwise, you could luck out and see one swimming, but it’s rare. They're vulnerable to predators in open water. Another stumbling block on the human side of things: the equipment needed to study them is expensive.

They’re hard to keep in captivity as well. Not only do they have specific environmental requirements, octopuses love to escape and they’re good at it. Put more than one in a tank together and they’ll fight and bicker constantly. The larger one usually wins. Even in these cities, they’re very aggressive with one another and evictions are commonplace. It’s like an extended, dysfunctional family where everyone has eight arms.


Octopuses are elusive and can squeeze themselves into small spaces. Flickr.

Studying such behavior can help us to better understand the octopus. Why is it that they’ve decided to live collectively? Some animals such as fish live together and travel in packs for protection from predators and to further commonly shared aims, like swimming faster while using less energy. Others do so to hunt more effectively. Or perhaps there’s a dearth of food in other places, forcing the octopuses to cohabitate.

Professor David Scheel of Alaska Pacific University led the study. He told Quartz, “These behaviors are the product of natural selection, and may be remarkably similar to vertebrate complex social behavior. This suggests that when the right conditions occur, evolution may produce very similar outcomes in diverse groups of organisms.”

Little actual data has surfaced thus far. Researchers found the city in the first few days of the study, dropped cameras down and started taking footage. Now, there’s a ton of it to go through. Most of what’s written in their report are impressions from among the daily recreational dives they took to the site, over the course of eight days.

Study co-author Peter Godfrey-Smith has put out an interesting book called, Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. He said that dens give an octopus good protection against predators. In the case of Octlantis, the area northwest of the site has an exceptionally large scallop bed, a favorite food among these cunning cephalopods.

Besides doughboy scallops, there are plenty of razor clams and Tasmanian scallops to be had in the area as well. This rich bounty allows for the octopuses to tolerate one another, in order to enrich themselves. As the creatures devour mollusks, their midden piles build, which makes room for future occupants, who themselves consume shellfish, leading to an even further pile-up. Godfrey-Smith calls this process ecosystem engineering.

To see another wonder of our great oceans, click here: 

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

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Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

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Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
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Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

A homeless man faces Wall Street

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Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
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