Octopuses are masters of camouflage who typically activate their camouflage superpowers in response to changing conditions around them. They can trigger cells underneath the surface of their skin to change color. However, it might be that these soft-bodied creatures aren’t putting on a light show just to confuse predators. Recently, PBS released a mesmerizing clip of a sleeping cephalopod changing her color multiple times.
The video was taken from the documentary Octopus: Making Contact, by Dr. David Scheel, a professor at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, and Heidi, the octopus he’s raised.
Unlike humans, octopuses don’t have a centralized brain. Instead, they have multiple “brains,” their bundles of neurons are distributed in their limbs.
“It does appear that many animals, and perhaps all animals with nervous systems, must sleep. Sleep has been noted for example in two different species of jellyfish, which of course are not fish but cnidarian invertebrate animals related to corals and anemones,” Dr. Scheel said.
“Sleep can be recognized behaviorally, and studies have found that both octopuses and their relatives’ cuttlefish have behaviors that satisfy the definition of sleep: they become quiescent and less responsive to disturbance but can be roused. After a period of sleep deprivation, they sleep longer to catch up. And their brains are active during these sleep behaviors.”
Currently, Dr. School focuses on fund-raising for equipment improvements in the aquarium lab at Alaska Pacific University. “I will be conducting further research on octopus behavior and cognition. I am also working to publish more results from the fieldwork on octopus behavior in both Alaska and Australia. I am being asked about collaborating on investigating sleep behavior. That would be a new direction for me.”