Study: Octopuses ‘Punch’ Lazy Fishing Buddies

Study: Octopuses ‘Punch’ Lazy Fishing Buddies

This article comes from the Bent Fishing Podcast’s “Fish News” segment, where hosts Joe Cermele and Miles Nolte go head to head to find and report the most interesting and amusing fishy stories across sources far and wide—from respected scientific journals to trashy tabloids.

We all have lousy fishing buddies. They’re late, don’t have the right gear, only show up with three beers (but inevitably drink ten), or maybe have been floating rivers for a decade but still haven’t learned how to row a damn boat. Yeah, you know who you are.

I have great fishing friends who don’t own the right equipment but always fill the cooler and pay for gas. Others may be chronically broke and incapable of hooking fish in a hatchery pond, but they’re so damn entertaining I’ll fish with them anyway. A worthwhile fishing buddy contributes somehow. When you realize you’ve been fishing with someone for years, however, and they’re not adding anything to your days on the water, consider channeling your inner octopus.

Scientists have known since the ’80s that octopuses will team up with various types of fish to form hunting parties. They target a section of reef and work together to flush prey. Goatfish and other bottom feeders surround and guard the sea-floor perimeter. Semi-benthic predators like groupers patrol the water column above, while octopuses scour the coral, flushing prey from holes and crevices. Each animal has a role, and if one of them doesn’t do their job, they all suffer.

A recently published study shows that octopuses are the ringleaders of these underwater hunting operations—not surprising given their superior intellect. The researchers also demonstrate that octopuses don’t tolerate lazy or greedy partners. “Conflicts between partners can arise over the level of investment or distribution of payoffs,” according to the study. “Thus, in this complex social network of interactions, partner control mechanisms might emerge in order to prevent exploitation and ensure collaboration.”

“Partner control mechanisms” might be my new favorite euphemism for punching someone in the face, because that’s exactly what the researchers observed. If a certain fish didn’t do its job or decided to hang back and pick off flushed prey instead of actively working its patrol area, the octopus would seek it out and punch it in the face with a tentacle.

The paper continues, “here we report a series of events where different octopus individuals engage in active displacement of partner fish during collaborative hunting. To this end, the octopus performs a swift, explosive motion with one arm directed at a specific fish partner, which we refer to as punching.”

One of the authors of the study, Edward Sampaio, wrote on Twitter, “this was probably the most fun I had writing a paper. Ever.”

Sampaio’s enjoyment shines through in the text. It’s one of those rare fishery papers that a lay person can actually read and understand. Plus, it’s only eight pages long. If you’re thinking, “eight pages? Come on, I could watch 50 TikTok videos in the time it takes to read eight pages,” don’t worry, you can see clips of these octopus pugilists online. It’s highly entertaining.

I don’t recommend punching any of your fishing buddies in the face, even if they eat all your jerky or steal your last Drunk and Disorderly and pitch it into the trees on their first cast. I do endorse less violent partner control mechanisms.

To catch all the Fish News stories and so much more, listen to the full Bent show here or wherever you listen to podcasts. Don’t forget to subscribe!

Featured image via Morten Brekkevold. 

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