The Soul of an Octopus - Chapters 1 & 2 Summary

In chapter one of the Soul of an Octopus, we are introduced to the world of the octopus through the author’s first meeting with Athena the giant Pacific octopus. The author’s encounter with Athena provides context for how humans have historically viewed octopuses as sometimes frightening but mainly fascinating creatures. As invertebrates, octopuses are not necessarily some of the first creatures that people think of when they imagine animal intelligence. However, there are many instances of octopuses exhibiting behaviors that portray them as intelligent. Octopuses appear to have preferences for certain aquarists and are quite adept at escaping their aquariums and can even solve puzzles to retrieve food from clear plastic cubes. At the end of the chapter, Athena the octopus passes away, and the author begins interacting with a new octopus named Octavia.

In the second chapter, we learn more about octopus intelligence as the author interacts with the less friendly Octavia. Octavia is a wild caught octopus from British Columbia and is more wary after not growing up in an aquarium setting. As Octavia slowly warms up, we learn that brain size isn’t the determining factor for animal intelligence. Many studies trying to understand animal brains and intelligence have gone awry because scientists didn’t understand differences in the structures of non-human brains. These differences are one of the factors that can make it difficult to assess animals with neural organization and intelligence that differs from our own. The chapter ends on both a happy and sad note with Octavia aging and becoming senescent while a new baby octopus enters the picture. 

Andi DeRogatis is a graduate student at UC Davis in the animal biology graduate group. She is currently studying how the avian immune system is influenced by the process of molt. She loves all things birds and is passionate about getting others excited about birds as well! You can follow her on Twitter @andiderogatis.

Lindsey Mooney is a graduate student in the UC Davis Psychology Department. You can follow her on Twitter @Linz_Mooney.

For more content from the UC Davis science communication group "Science Says", follow us on Twitter @SciSays.

Primary Category