Study of single cephalopod suggests the animals may have narrative dreams19 MAY 2023
BY CHRISTIE WILCOX
SUSAN AIDE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS (CC BY 4.0)
Octopuses may have vivid, narrative dreams—some of which are terrifying—according to a study posted this month on the preprint server bioRxiv. Scientists describe what appeared to be four filmed instances of nightmares in a Brazilian reef octopus (Octopus insularis) named Costello, during which the sleeping animal exhibited bizarre behaviors including abrupt color changes, erratic movements, expelling water from its siphon, and even inking. Although limited conclusions can be drawn from one individual, the researchers noted that the actions are similar to natural stress and antipredator behaviors in this species and therefore could be physical manifestations of frightening dreams. Costello’s life before the lab certainly could have provided nightmare fuel, a study author tells New Scientist. The octopus lost an arm to a predator before he was rescued and taken into captivity. If indeed the episodes were nightmares, that would suggest narrative dreaming independently evolved in cephalopods, and further research on the phenomenon could provide unique insights into the neuroscience of dreams.
Scientists caught a napping octopus changing its colours on tape, leading them to believe that the animal was camouflaging itself to the environments in its dream. Considering how octopuses have a brain-to-body ratio similar to that of mammals, and many primate and non-primate mammals are known to experience dreams and nightmares, this wasn’t very surprising. However, the prospect of the highly intelligent and problem solving octopuses having complex dreams was exciting. Now, footage of a male Brazilian reef octopus named Costello falling sound asleep has surfaced in the scientific community leading to many neurological questions.