09 March 2009

Octopus in a box


A box full of octopus
The seven-foot octopus Truman pulled a Houdini today, stuffing himself in an acrylic cube in search of food. The spectacle drew a crowd.
Martin Finucane, The Boston Globe 5 Mar 09;
His name is Truman. But you can just call him Houdini.

Truman, a 7-foot-long, 30-pound octopus at the New England Aquarium squeezed his body into a 14-inch square acrylic box today in pursuit of food, aquarium officials said. The 30-minute performance drew a crowd of staff and guests.

The caretakers for the octopi at the aquarium place food inside locked boxes as an enrichment activity. The idea is that the animals, who are very intelligent, must figure out how to unlatch the boxes and get the food, aquarium officials said in a news release.

Today, biologist Bill Murphy placed a couple of crabs inside a 6-inch-square acrylic cube and latched it, then placed that cube inside a 14-inch cube with a different latch. The cubes were then placed inside Truman's tank.

The idea was for Truman to release the latch on the larger box then release the latch of the smaller one to get his food. And staff expected Truman not to get to work until after the aquarium closed and it was dark, because octopi typically prey on other animals at night.

But Truman was impatient. He got to work right away. And rather than undoing the latch on the larger box, he squeezed his legs and large head through a two-inch hole in the larger box.

"The speculation is that the crabs were active and he got excited ... and decided, Whoa!, there's lunch," said aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse.

Once inside, he worked for 30 minutes to try to unlatch the smaller box.

Unlike a human magician undoing padlocks underwater while his air runs out, Truman apparently took his time. And when he couldn't get the smaller box open, he simply slithered out again, the aquarium said.

LaCasse said the octopi are known among the staff as "absolutely remarkably intelligent animals" who like to interact with people.

"Believe it or not," he said, "that octopus likes to be petted."

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