What does an octopus like to eat?
For a long time it was thought that octopuses didn’t differentiate between their prey – just that whatever they encountered, they ate. But more and more research (much of it done by Profs. Jennifer Mather, David Scheel, Tatiana Leite and Dr. Roland Anderson, three of whom are on this research trip) indicates that some species of octopuses are selective about what they eat. Some studies show that they prefer crabs over scallops, clams, etc., even when the time it took to take them apart and eat them gave them less food and energy!
Studies have also shown that while populations of octopus may eat a wide variety of things, oftentimes individuals choose particular foods, possibly in just the same way that you might like mac and cheese, but I like to eat pizza a lot.
When you eat, why would you choose something like avocado or peas over broccoli? Why do you choose chocolate over brussels sprouts? Yes, I’ve made assumptions here, but I’m thinking that most of you would agree with me about the chocolate thing.
One of the things we’re trying to find out here in Mo’orea (in French Polynesia) is why octopuses make the food choices they make (why the chocolate over the broccoli?). Some of the questions we’re asking are: why do they choose one crab and not the other? Does it have something to do with how available that crab is? Or how big it is? Can it be because the crab is available in every “corner store”?
Octopuses are intelligent animals with great capacity for learning, and they have personalities (as research by Dr. Jennifer Mather and others has shown). Dr. Mather has suggested that octopus personality influences food choices because it influences how that octopus hunts. Is the octopus shy and wary of predators? Or is that octopus bold and willing to search even while a researcher, camera in hand, follows?
Our research is trying to link personality, exploration, habitat diversity and prey preferences of O. cyanea (the day octopus). This same species has been evaluated in Hawaii, but the day octopus is reputed to have a more varied diet elsewhere in the Pacific – which is what brought us to Mo’orea.
While we’re here, we’ll be looking to answer these three questions about octopus diets…
One: does what an octopus eats have to do with the “neighbourhood”, or habitat? (This is Dr. Leite’s question)
Two: does it have to do with the personality? (This is Dr. Mather’s question)
Three: does it have to do with how much prey is available, and the size of that prey? (This is Dr. Scheel’s question)
All three of these scientists (and I) are working together to determine what an octopus eats, and why.
Guest blog post by Keely Langford, an interpretive delivery specialist at the Vancouver Aquarium. Keely is accompanying a team of researchers, led by Dr. Jennifer Mather of University of Lethbridge, to the South Pacific this summer. This team of researchers is studying how the day octopus (Octopus cyanea) chooses its food. Keely will be sharing a series of blog post updates on this initiative during the next several weeks.