Video Suggests Octopuses Have Nightmares About Predator Attacks

It’s one of the oldest and most frustrating questions when studying animal behavior: Is the thing we’re seeing what we think we’re seeing?

But for nearly anyone who watches the below video, the source of the octopus’s behavior seems obvious — he’s having a nightmare.

Researchers at a laboratory aquarium at the Rockefeller University in New York spied one of their specimens, a Brazilian reef octopus named Costello, having a rare and unexplained episode.

While sleeping, the octopus changes colors, then swirls around in a series of tense contortions, shoots out some ink, and finally settles on the bottom, intensely clutching a pipe.

University scientists called the behavior very unusual, and described the movements as similar to a fight response when attacked by a predator.

See for yourself:

To be clear: Researchers can’t say definitively that the octopus is having a nightmare, though they’ve already published an initial paper on the incident. There’s that problem again of having a scientific system based on empirical evidence.

Regardless, there are some behaviors that seem too obvious to the human eye to be easily dismissed, and this is clearly one of them. These eight-armed animals have become the focus of increasing amounts of research in recent years because of their fierce intelligence and emotional behavior. 

It’s also fair to point out that science doesn’t have a great track record in granting animals individuality, sexuality or creativity. A slow acceptance of those traits as belonging to more Earthly creatures than just Homo sapiens is changing how we understand evolution, The New York Times reported.

Looking at the bigger picture: Do we truly think we’re the only species on this planet that has dreams and nightmares?

Whatever caused Costello’s abnormal fit of behavior, we can all understand the difficulty of getting a good night’s rest.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.