A LITTLE FUN WITH THE FOUR REMAINING CEPHALOPODS

As thought by most people I know, the assumption is that 'intelligence' came about progressively as life forms evolved from unicellular to man. It grew from a zero IQ to just a little higher in invertebrates like mollusks. Then intelligence grew a lot more in fishes and birds, starting to really bloom in mammals and other vertebrates, most recently exploding to the stellar IQ's at  the high end of the primate branch, our own human intelligence. 


We are pretty darn smart. Smart enough to have found out recently that this 'thinking' is...entirely false. We will see that the growth of intelligence happened elsewhere, on other unrelated branches of the tree of life. 


200 million years ago, at about the time when primates began to look like us, a major mutiny hit the cephalopods, a branch of the mollusk family, a notoriously dumb part of the lowly invertebrates. Rebels in that group started to ditch their shell and then got very very smart. Why did this happen?

We know only four surviving members of that mollusk branch called cephalopods: the nautilus, the squid, the cuttlefish and the octopus. The last three of these are the aforementioned rebels, those that let go of their shell. Some history:

For the preceding 800 million years, the nautilus had been king-of-the-seas, protected by an armor, a spiral shell that develops logarithmically to accomodate the growth of that beautiful species, one that has jet propulsion, grabber tentacles and a radula, a parrot-like beak that can drill through the hardest crab shell. During that 800 million year period, fishes had gotten a lot better at swimming, mating and eating. They were endowed with a muscular spine, fins and a good pair of goggles, giving them the mobility to prosper and multiply.

The nautilus had lost his championship belt. He was no longer the best swimmer, fighter and progenitor of the open seas. He had to spend upwards of 30% of its time foraging for food. Looking for the rarefied sexual partners took care of what was left of his time. Something needed to be done.

Some of these shelled mollusks started to boost the size of their tentacles, building convenient suction cups to better grab food or females. That seemed to work well, so they ditched the shell and gained a lot more speed and freedom. They were rebaptised as 'octopus' and their new slogan was 'fuck the protection, we need to invest in cognition'.

Indeed their new swimming freedom gave them a vastly enlarged area full of prey and predators to deal with. They needed to store more data and to organize all that information. Those clever tentacles needed a lot of motor controls, and their individually-actuated suckers need a lot of wiring to a good control box. A much larger brain was born. Most importantly, they had to revert to the 'den' protection scheme, having no more shells to deter unfriendly teeth. Like masons, they are known to build little rock walls at the entrance by using three of four tentacles simultaneously. This gives them quality sleep for their brains to  better process info through dream states.

We do that too. At about the same time, a much more evolved naked species was doing a lot of the same things: the early hominids that preceeded us. They too spent a lot of time in caverns, hiding from saber-tooth tigers and procreating like crazy.  Today's men and today's octopi have this much in common: they spend a lot more time in their respective dens than they do foraging for food. As little as 3% for some octopi. Also in common with us, their capacity for mischief, deception, tri-dimensional location memory and play. Fundamentally, we both share a large ratio of brain to body size .For the trivia-inclined reader, this tidbit: both they and we can open jars to get to the food inside, but only the octopus can disable an annoying flickering  fluorescent light by shooting a jet of water at it. This has been observed by the janitor at the Seattle Aquarium.

Alas, the last two hundred million years were not so kind to the 'conservative' nautilus, the original cephalopod who stuck with the shell. They became rarefied and shrank enormously in size. The beautiful shell that made them kings-of-the-sea is now a hindrance. They cannot even go to great depths without risking an implosion of the sealed chambers inside. Worse, they are too dumb to know about that fact, which is why today we find more dead ones than live ones.

Meanwhile its estranged brother the octopus has developed amazing defensive tactics when he swims out of his den. One of these is to instantly change its shape and appearance to look like a venomous fish, a poisonous coral or a even a deadly predator. We have earlier called the nautilus 'conservative'. As a corollary, we should then classify the octopus as 'progressive'.




Not to be outdone, 200 million years ago another 'progressive' rebel, the squid, invested in trade unions shortly after ditching the nautilus shell. Its defense against predators is gang travel, strength in numbers, with millions of them travelling together... to the delight of today's Spanish fishing fleet. That was certainly not part of the original union contract!  These hard-core progressives also developed speed and agility with boosted jet propulsion and directional fins. Compare this to the tiller-less nautilus pushing his heavy rounded shell backwards...almost at random through the vast oceans!


Finally the third 'progressive' rebel of the Nautilidae family is the cuttlefish, not a fish at all but really a mollusk just like the other three, naked like the squid and the octopus. This fellow broke rank with all the others by developing an amazing pixellated skin, one capable of  showing more colors than your computer monitor.
Think of the brain size needed to connect these millions of chromatofores to the digital array that needs to be displayed. When swimming, a predator looking up at the cuttlefish will see an evanescent shape that has the tone and color of the sky above. If the predator is swimming on top, that same cuttlefish will have its back mimicking the sea bed below. In whatever amalgam of weeds or rocks or colorful coral, he will be invisible as shown in the photo to the right.
Most of the bad guys will not even look twice. To sound an alarm, the cuttlefish will flash moving bands of bright  fluorescent colors faster than you can change channels on your TV.

That huge brain has invested in deception even better than the octopus. And guess what they do better than us: when relating to other cuttlefishes, a cuttlefish can display messages on his right flank that are different than the messages on his left side. He can carry on two different conversations simultaneously, just like the folks at FoxNews.

This is my favorite:  if a dominant male has all the girls, a meeker looking male still has his chances of scoring by adopting the skin color and tone of a female. Thus transformed, he can then penetrate the harem and screw around without arousing the big fellow's ire. Talk about high-tech!

While in Vietnam a few years ago, a country restaurant had a tank outside where you could choose the live cuttlefish that they would deliciously prepare inside for you. When I refused to point at any of them, the waiter gave me a quizzical stare. I wish my Vietnamese had been up to it. I would have said to him without blinking:

Bồi bàn, ăn một trong những người cũng giống như ăn brood của riêng tôi. Giống như mực này, tôi là một minh tiến bộ, kỹ thuật số hiểu biết, nhanh chóng di chuyển, và không quá đẹp trai. Tôi có thể bơi với tất cả chúng. Tôi thậm chí có thể trông giống như một bảo thủ và làm bạn với những fellas qua bảo vệ. Nhưng kể từ khi tôi không có vỏ và không sở hữu một khẩu súng, tôi cần phải giấu trong den Mexico của tôi để cảm thấy an toàn và ấm cúng, đi về phía bắc tới Mỹ chỉ 3% thời gian để thức ăn thô xanh cho thực phẩm. Cũng như mực nang, tôi dành phần lớn thời gian của tôi screwing xung quanh hoặc chơi với bản thân mình, máy tính của tôi và cho thấy ánh sáng, có vui vẻ ... Hey bồi bàn, đưa cho tôi một đĩa sò bảo thủ thay thế.Tôi rất nhiều hưởng shucking các Bastards câm với một con dao tốt.


(translation)


Waiter, eating one of those is like eating my own kind. Like this cuttlefish, I am not good-looking  but I'm a digitally savvy character, a fast moving, and clever progressive. I can swim with all of them, adapting as I go. I can even mimic a conservative to befriend these poor fellas in their stuffy armor. But since I have no shell and don't own a gun, I need to hide in my Mexican den to feel safe and cozy, going north to the US just 3% of the time to forage for food. Like the cuttlefish, I spend most of my time screwing around or playing with my computers and toys like this web site, having fun...Hey waiter, bring me a plate of those tasty conservative oysters instead. I so much enjoy shucking these dumb bastards with a good knife. All in good fun of course.

2 comments:

Camille said...

Delightful, Jacques. Loved reading all about these colorful and brainy species.

Bob Sponge said...

.....I have no shell and don't own a gun, I need to hide in my Mexican den to feel safe and cozy, going north to the US just 3% of the time to forage for food....

Hey Jacques !
You should adopt the way of life of the sea sponge !
What a fascinating life !
Bob Sponge
(diaporamax@gmail.com)