Watch: Octopuses Punch Fish, Sometimes For No Apparent Reason Researchers discovered that an octopus might punch a fish when both are hunting. Although some of the thrown punches can be explained, others remain a mystery.
NPR logo

WATCH: Octopuses Punch Fish, Sometimes For No Apparent Reason

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/950143025/950724238" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
WATCH: Octopuses Punch Fish, Sometimes For No Apparent Reason

WATCH: Octopuses Punch Fish, Sometimes For No Apparent Reason

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/950143025/950724238" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So what does an octopus do with its eight arms? Well, that is a question that's been interesting scientists. Two years ago, Eduardo Sampaio was studying octopuses off the coast of Israel. And he saw something surprising.

EDUARDO SAMPAIO: We saw one of them punch a fish.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

That's right. He saw an octopus curl up a tentacle, then punch a nearby fish.

SAMPAIO: I just laughed out loud, like, underwater, and I almost choked on my regulator.

FADEL: Sampaio is a Ph.D. student at the University of Lisbon. He and a team of scientists worked to record the rare phenomenon.

GREENE: And this month, they have published their findings in the journal Ecology. Sampaio says the movements are just too deliberate to be accidental jabs.

SAMPAIO: You can see that some punches are, like, almost like a small boop. And other ones, even the whole arm curls up and uncurls afterwards, you know, like the motion of a boxer doing a punch.

FADEL: He says there are good reasons an octopus might want to knock some sense into a nearby fish, such as preventing the fish from taking prey away from the octopus.

SAMPAIO: The other possibility is that it could be punishment.

GREENE: Sampaio says this work brings up more questions than it answers, and that includes...

SAMPAIO: Is there a species that the octopus prefers to punch? Or another big question I have - could I take an octopus on in a fight? I'll let you decide.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OCTOPUS'S GARDEN")

THE BEATLES: (Singing) I'd like to be under the sea in an octopus's garden...

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.