Octopuses Punch Fish Out of Spite, New Research Suggests

Researcher Eduardo Sampaio dived for 160 hours and witnessed eight clear instances in which an octopus punches a fish in order to come to the conclusion.
Researcher Eduardo Sampaio dived for 160 hours and witnessed eight clear instances in which an octopus punches a fish to come to the conclusion. (Ecology/Twitter)

Turns out, octopuses might be the underwater predator no one suspected. New research is now suggesting that the 8-legged sea animals punch fish, and sometimes, they do it purely out of spite.

Scientists recorded the bizarre observation in a paper published in Ecology, and determined that normally octopuses throw jabs at fish while hunting together, as a sort of punishment for bad behavior or if they are competing over prey.

But in some instances, the octopus doesn’t seem to have anything to gain from the punch – meaning, the octopus does not immediately catch prey following the punch, according to the paper. That’s what led researcher Eduardo Sampaio and his co-authors to determine the octopus might be punching fish purely as “spiteful behavior.”

Sampaio said he spent around 160 hours diving in order to witness eight clear instances in which an octopus punches a fish. While most times, there seems to be a practical reason for an octopus to punch a fish, namely if they are competing over prey, Sampaio said there are rare instances in which an octopus winds up and punches a fish, but does not reap any immediate benefits.

“Most of the times they break their camouflage and express disruptive patterns when punching. Closeness may play a role because of fleeing prey, but if the octopus was worried about its well-being it would not be out hunting,” Sampaio said on Twitter. “We’ve seen even the same fish much closer during the hunts without getting punched. This tells us that’s not the main reason driving the behavior.”

While Sampaio, who clarified “spiteful behavior” means that “the octopus punches to impose a cot, regardless of self-cost,” had no other explanation to why the marine life may engage in aggressive behavior, he joked on Twitter, “Who never wanted to punch a fish, right?”

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