Sometimes Octopuses Punch Fish Out Of Spite, Scientists Say

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Andrew Jose Contributor
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Octopuses and fish might work together to pursue prey in partnerships where they might not always get along, and when they don’t get along, the octopuses might punch their fish partners, new research suggests.

For several decades, researchers have documented temporary hunting alliances between octopuses and coral reef fish of different species, scientists Eduardo Sampaio, Martim Costa Seco, Rui Rosa, and Simon Gingins reported in their study published in the journal Ecology. (RELATED: Hungarian Scientists Accidentally Create New Type Of Fish)

On some occasions, this collaboration lasts beyond an hour, with different species searching for prey in distinct areas. Octopuses look for prey darting about rocks and into a reef’s tight spaces, and bottom-feeder fish scour the seafloor, while other fish species patrol the water column, the study explained.

But, according to the study, as the researchers diving in Eilat, Israel, and El Quseir, Egypt, discovered, the partnerships don’t always end well for the fish — the octopuses might suddenly punch their supposed partners. 

Sampaio, one of the researchers, has even recorded this behavior, which in the study he and his colleagues describe as a single-armed “swift, explosive motion” targeted at a fish.

“I laughed out loud, and almost choked on my own regulator,” lead researcher Sampaio told Live Science, recollecting his first time witnessing the phenomena.

 The punching can serve different purposes, according to the study. Octopuses might sometimes punch one of their partners to displace it to such a degree that the fish loses its prey, as a form of partner-control mechanism. Alternatively, the study says, the punching could be a mere display of “spiteful behavior.”

Though octopuses have been understood to defensively punch when attacked by damselfishes or in fights over food, this study is the first time the punching has been described and tied to collaborative hunting scientifically, Live Science reported.