Octopi look quite strange with their long, gangly legs stretching out in front of them. According to new research published in the journal Current Biology, scientists have made their first kinematic analysis of octopus arm coordination to figure out just how these animals manage to stay untangled.
“Octopuses are unique locomotion strategies that are different from those found in other animals,” said Binyamin Hochner, one of the researchers, in a news release. “This is most likely due to their soft molluscan body that led to the evolution of ‘strange’ morphology, enabling efficient locomotion control without a rigid skeleton.”
While previous studies regarding octopus behavior have focused more on goal-oriented arm movements, such as seeing a target or grabbing food and pulling it toward their mouths, this new study is the first to look specifically at how octopi manage to coordinate eight arms during movement without tangling them up.
During the study, researchers filmed the octopi and then poured over the videos frame by frame. They examined the images, and scientists found that despite the creature’s bilaterally symmetrical body, it crawls in just about any direction that’s relative to its body orientation.
Furthermore, they discovered that its body orientation and crawling direction were actually independently controlled, and its crawling lacked much reason, moving in just about every and any direction sans coordination.
Researchers said they believe that octopuses evolved from animals that may have been similar to clams with a protective outer shell and almost no movement.
Yet due to evolution, these creatures lost their shells and gained the ability to move more freely. Their “foot” also grew into long and slender arms that help the creature get around in the way that we’re most familiar with today.
Furthermore, the radial symmetry of octopi limbs are responsible for the crawling thrust that provides the elongating push that helps these peculiar-looking molluscs get around in the water.
“These two together enable a mechanism whereby the central controller chooses in a moment-to-moment fashion which arms to recruit for pushing the body in an instantaneous fashion,” the researchers concluded.
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