In 2016, workers at New Zealand's National Aquarium were surprised to find out that Inky the octopus managed to escape from its enclosure prior to heading to open water.
The cephalopod apparently broke out from its aquarium and slithered across the facility's floor to a drainpipe, leaving behind a wet trail.
Extraordinary Intelligence Of The Octopus
Marine biologists, however, are not surprised by Inky's escape. In response to news of the daring escape of Inky, James Wood of The Cephalopod Page said that over the years of him working with octopuses, he has already seen many octopuses escape, including one in Bermuda that managed to escape several times from its closed aquarium to eat the inhabitants of another enclosure.
Octopuses are among the most intelligent animals in nature as evidenced by how they manage to cleverly escape from their aquariums. Besides being great escape artists, they are also known to have a knack for puzzles.
Ursula, an octopus housed at the Living Coasts zoo and aquarium in the United Kingdom, is good at puzzles, taking only several seconds to solve complex challenges. Octopuses can also develop unique personalities and recognize individual faces.
"The octopus appears to be utterly different from all other animals, even other molluscs, with its eight prehensile arms, its large brain and its clever problem-solving capabilities," said Clifton Ragsdale from the University of Chicago, who was part of a 2015 study that sequenced the genome of octopuses.
So what makes octopuses intelligent? Findings of a new study suggest their brilliance may lie in their ability to edit their own genes.
Octopuses Can Edit Their Own RNA
Researchers who have been studying how cephalopods edit their genome discovered that instead of relying on DNA mutations to adapt, squids, octopuses, and cuttlefish can make changes to their RNA, which is considered the genetic messenger that carries out the instructions from DNA.
Many of the RNA edits happen in the brain of the cephalopods, including an adaptation that allows the neurons of the animals to function in cold environments.
"Editing is enriched in the nervous system, affecting molecules pertinent for excitability and neuronal morphology. The genomic sequence flanking editing sites is highly conserved, suggesting that the process confers a selective advantage," researchers wrote in their study, which was published in the journal Cell.
Link Between Ability To Edit RNA And Intelligence Of A Species
Although they have not provided a definitive evidence for the association, researchers think that the cephalopods' ability to edit their RNA can shed light on the creature's intelligence. If this theory turns out correct, the ability to alter the RNA could mean it is a crucial factor in the intelligence of a species.
"Extensive recoding might have contributed to the exceptional intelligence," said study researcher Eli Eisenberg from Tel Aviv University. "Of course, at this point it's just an enticing idea to think about, and we would need much more evidence to say anything definitive in this direction."