Ocean Animals and the Mirror Self Recognition Test

dolphin mirror test, mirror self recognition test, self aware animals
Dolphin reacts to own image in mirror

With recent news that the cleaner wrasse might have mirror self-recognition (MSR), I thought I’d write about the ocean animals that have MSR. Bottlenose dolphins and killer whales have MSR for certain. Possible mirror self-recognition ocean animals include manta rays and cleaner wrasses. Ocean animal that failed the mirror self-recognition test is the octopus.

So what is self-recognition? With a mirror, self-aware animals such as chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins recognize themselves and don’t react as if the image is another animal of the same species. Some animals that don’t have self-recognition react to their image in a mirror with aggression or other more positive social behaviors.

The mirror self-recognition test is when a human researcher places a mark somewhere conspicuous on a captive animal. With human babies, they place a paint mark on their foreheads. Starting at 18 months, human babies investigate the mark when they see themselves in a mirror.

Then the researchers place the test animal in front of a mirror and judge from their actions (usually curiosity) if they recognize themselves or not. Here are some examples from the ocean:

Bottlenose dolphins in captivity react to a mirror image by “opening their mouths, sticking out their tongues and showing novel behaviors.” When marked, they investigate the mark on their bodies by moving the marked area towards the mirror.

Killer whales in captivity were shown themselves unmarked in a mirror. Then they were marked. The whales behaved like they expected their appearance to be altered. This showed that they have self-recognition.

Manta rays possibly show mirror self-recognition. When captive manta rays had a mirror placed in their tank, they blew bubbles, which they normally don’t do. They also appeared to investigate their image in the mirror by turning their belly towards the mirror and swimming by the mirror repeatedly.

Cleaner wrasses were injected with a mark, which is how scientists mark fish in their studies. When their throats were marked and a mirror placed in their tank, the cleaner wrasses would rub their throats against the tank. Throat rubbing is not behavior seen in wild cleaner wrasses. When the mirror wasn’t in the tank, the wrasses didn’t rub. So seeing the mark in the mirror caused the throat rubbing and hence cleaner wrasses possibly have self-recognition.

As a side note, the inventor of the mirror self-recognition test, Gordon Gallup of the State University of New York, doesn’t think cleaner wrasses have self-recognition and that the study was flawed. What do you think?

Octopuses haven’t passed the mirror test, but in studies they do orient themselves towards the mirror. Octopuses rely on their sense of touch and don’t rely on vision as much as mammals do, so it makes sense they don’t show mirror self-recognition.

On a personal note, I have dived with manta rays off the coast of Hawaii. I looked them in the eye and saw straight into their soul. It was no different than looking into a dog or cat’s eyes. I knew something was going on behind them. I don’t doubt that manta rays are thinking beings and that they may be self-aware.

Websites consulted:
List of Animals That Have Passed the Mirror Test
Article, “Is this Fish Self-Aware?”

10 Interesting Octopus Facts

10 Terrific Facts about Octopuses
10 Interesting Octopus Facts photo by: Cherilyn Chin

10 Interesting Octopus Facts

1. The preferred plural of “Octopus” is “Octopuses” by cephalopod and octopus lovers.

2. Octopuses are considered the earth’s most intelligent invertebrate. They are also very dexterous, and can be taught to unscrew the lid to a jar to get food inside! (I’ve actually done it!)

3. Due to having no bones and being an invertebrate, a Giant Pacific Octopus can fit through a 2 inch hole (which is the size of its beak or mouth).

4. Octopuses are masters of camouflage-not only can they match the pattern of the background they are on, but they can change texture too (Amazing octopus camouflage video here).

5. Octopuses have 3 hearts and blue-green blood.

6. A octopus not only feels with the suckers on its 8 arms, but it also tastes with its suckers too!

7. An octopus’ 8 arms move independently of its brain.

8. Most species of octopus are nocturnal (sleep during day, active at night) but some species like the Day Octopus (Octopus cyanea) are awake during the day.

9. The largest octopus on record was a Giant Pacific Octopus that weighed 600 pounds (272 kg) and arm-to-arm span was 30 foot wide (9m).

10. There are 300 species of octopuses ocean-wide.

For more on the octopuses’ cousins, the cephalopods see:
Meet Shelley the Chambered Nautilus

Vampire Squid: I’m No Vampire, I’m Not Even a Squid!

First Video Filmed of a Giant Squid in the Ocean

Top 5 Tweet Links for February 18-24, 2013

Rare Octopus Breeding in Alameda (California) Bedroom via @SFGate

Kenya Whale shark Safari Swims in Controversy via Yahoo! News

May the Force Be With Them: Glowing Shark Scares off Predators with “Lightsabers” via @Oceanleadership

Dolphins Call Each Other by Name via @Discovery_News

California Winery Ages Wine on Ocean Floor via @ABC

Vampire Squid: I’m no vampire, and I’m not even a squid!

”vampire
Vampire Squid (photo by MBARI)

My scientific name is Vampyroteuthis infernalis, which translates to “vampire squid from hell.” Too bad I’m not actually a squid or even an octopus, even though I have characteristics of both. I’m not a vampire either as I don’t suck blood! I do have a vampire-like cloak that I can wrap myself in (see MBARI video, it’s really cool!). As for being from hell, I dare you to live in pitch black darkness at 2000 feet deep (610m) 24/7 and not consider it hell! Just kidding, I am perfectly adapted to life in the deep sea, as my species has been around for millions of years. I am still a cephalopod, a group that includes octopuses, (true) squid, cuttlefish, and nautiluses.

I have been in the news lately because a study found that I eat feces and corpses. They are some of the components of marine snow, the organic bits and pieces that drift down from the surface to the bottom of the ocean. Maybe humans would not eat those things, but food is scarce in the deep sea. I’m constantly on the move, and I trap food in long, sticky, and retractable lines that I cast out from my body. My one inch (2.5cm) wide azure eyes are perfectly adapted for seeing in low, or no, light. I also have dark blue bioluminescent photophores (lights) all over my body. Bioluminescence (i.e. glow-in-the-dark light) is the only source of light in the deep sea.

So like octopuses I have 8 arms, but I don’t have ink sacs. Instead my “ink” is a mucus ball comprised of bioluminescent lights. It works for me when I feel threatened, and besides, black ink in the black deep sea wouldn’t do me much good.

I hope you can appreciate me now that you know I am more than just a feces eating scavenger, as I am one cool and wholly unique species!

Ollie the Octopus on Octopus Day and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Ollie the Octopus
Ollie the Octopus (photo by Cherilyn Chin)

Hi, my name is Ollie and I’m an octopus.  I am excited to hear that October 8 is Octopus Day during International Cephalopod Awareness Days (October 8-10).  I’m glad we’re getting the recognition we deserve, as we’re usually portrayed as villains (or villainesses) or as cute baby toys with our mouths underneath our eyes. Our mouth is actually underneath our head, and in the center of our circle of 8 arms.

I wish I could have compassion (like humans!) for the other life forms in the sea, but in order to survive I only think about myself.  I need avoid being eaten, find enough food to eat every day, and defend my den.  Since I don’t know my birthday and a calendar doesn’t fit inside my modest sized lair, I think Octopus Day is a good time for me to reflect on my life, or rather the state of the oceans.

It’s looking pretty bleak out there because due to global warming there is a rise in seawater temperature, rising sea levels, ocean acidification (see previous post from me and Terry the Pteropod), and coral bleaching.  There is pollution from land runoff, overfishing (see post Great White Shark’s Adventure), oil spills, and growing garbage patches in all the world’s oceans.

The most well known is called the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” which is a fancy name for a whole lot of crap thrown into the ocean by humans. Most of this garbage is plastic, which will never biodegrade. In fact, all the plastic ever manufactured is still around today, unless it was incinerated. I do know an octopus who lives in a glass beer bottle, but plastic isn’t useful to any denizen of the ocean I know of.  In fact, most sea life ingest tiny bits of plastic, as well as plastic chemical by-products, which bioaccumulate on up the food chain until you (or the 10% of sharks, large predatory fish or marine mammals left in the oceans) eat us.  Yuck!  Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellies, and albatrosses and other sea birds become entangled in plastic when they try to dive for fish.

So my wish this Octopus Day is that you reduce the amount of plastic you buy, recycle what you do buy, and use a reusable water bottle.  Unless you’re one of the one billion persons on this planet who do not have access to clean drinking water (my guess you wouldn’t be reading this if you are), tap water or filtered tap water is fine!!  I wish I could filter the water I live in…