Friday, July 09, 2010

The "psychic" octopus


Once the last goal is scored and the national euphoria (Spain or the Netherlands) dies down and the first football world cup in Africa fades into history, what will be most remembered with be Paul the Vulgar Octopus. (He belongs to the common octopus species which Linnaeus named as Octopus vulgaris)

He is credited for correctly predicting who won 11 out of 12 matches. I calculated the binomial probability that this could happen and it is just 0.2929%!

Here is what Wikipedia says

"In the lead-up to Germany's international football matches, Paul is presented with two clear plastic boxes, each containing food: a mussel or an oyster. Each container is marked with the flag of a team, one the flag of Germany", and the other the flag of Germany's opponent. The flag on the box chosen by the octopus is interpreted as being the flag of the predicted winning country."

He was also asked to predict who would win in the UEFA Euro 2o08 and he predicted 4 out of 6 wins by Germany but he failed to predict Germany's defeat by Croatia and who won the championship which was Spain. I estimated the chances of that happening and it was a respectable 23.43%.

Now cephalopods are known to be the most cephalized of invertebrates. The Octopus is probably the most intelligent of invertebrates. It has been known to learn spatially and is reported to show observational learning. The octopus is interesting for the large brain evolved on a nervous system so different from that of vertebrates. The octopus eye is a textbook example of convergent evolution.

The common octopus is the most common species in Europe and the Mediterranean. Those of us who grew up watching Capt. Jacques Cousteau in his explorations into inner space probably remember his "Underwater World" TV series which showed his experiment with common octopi. Here we remember seeing his animals intelligent enough to unscrew jars to get at the mussel treat inside. This we can say is something not a few humans fail to do!

And this is where the lunacy of our species shows. Some allegedly sapient Homo sapiens who rooted for losing teams have threatened to kill Paul and make him into 1) barbecue, 2) sushi, 3) squidballs 4) calamares rings, 5) paella de mariscos!

Some Germans want him deep fried and the Argentines want him be part of a paella de mariscos with his tentacles gracing the plate!

This allegedly led the Spanish government and their Prime Minister Zapatero to offer him refuge with constant 24 hour security!

Animal rights activist want him released back into the North Sea (Paul was hatched in an English oceanarium in 2006 and was sold to a German sea life park). With no experience of the wild his big kephalos will probably be split into two by a cancer crab. If he lived in the wild, he would have made mincemeat of a cancer crab.

Now that I am writing about octopi and cancer crabs, this is making me drool. These seafood species are so overfished. In the Mediterranean alone, 20,000 tons of Paul's kind are trawled from the sea bottom each year and turned into paella ingredients and squid balls!

Thank God octopi have short lives. They live for 2-3 years. At 2.5 years, Paul is a senior citizen. Now I don't know if Paul ever had sex. None of the news in the web or the printed blurbs ever mentioned Paul's sex life. And that is too unusual for a celebrity. Human celebrities and their sex escapades are tabloid fodder.

However I suspect Paul is a certified Octo Virgin! He is celibate!

But me being a marine biologist who studied molluscs, here is something about octopus sex. I know that male octopi have a foreplay arm which they use to stroke the female. This is also used to insert the sperm packet into the female's mantle. In the foreplay before insemination, they caress and hold hands! The octo lothario then guards the female until she lays her eggs. He then leaves and all his sperm spent, he lingers for a bit and dies. The female after laying her eggs and seeing them hatch, also dies in about a week.

And so if Paul ever had sex, he should be dead by now.

Now putting a virgin in the frying pan is extremely cruel, isn't it?

Germans and the Argies should let Paul alone and let him find his love and live out the rest of his days.

However, getting 11 out of 12 right beats any fortune teller our species ever produced!




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