Octopus uses coconut tools
The researchers suggest that the Veined
Octopus evolved tool-using behaviour for
clam shells, but have now started using it
on coconut shells - which are discarded by
humans in large numbers.
Image: iStockphoto

Museum Victoria’s Julian Finn and Mark Norman have recorded the first case of tool use – sophisticated behaviour generally limited to mammals and birds – in an invertebrate. 

The Veined Octopus, Amphioctopus marginatus, uses foreign objects for shelter, which is common in octopuses and is not itself considered tool use. However the Veined Octopus goes a step further and prepares, manipulates and carries coconut shells up to 20 metres to reassemble its shelter elsewhere.

Julian and Mark spent more than 500 hours diving in Indonesian waters to observe and film these animals. They watched octopuses dig out coconut shells from the ocean floor, empty shells with jets of water, stack two empty shells hollow-side up, and carry the shells in a unique gait they call ‘stilt-walking’. This series of actions are among the most complex ever recorded in an octopus.

The Veined Octopus probably evolved this behaviour using clam shells as shelter. However once humans began discarding large numbers of coconut shells, they inadvertently created a steady supply of lightweight octopus tools.

Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.