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Octopuses Are Deep Sea Bullies That Punch Fish Out of ‘Spite’ or Just for Fun, Study Finds

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It’s long been known that octopuses are extremely intelligent creatures, whose brain power may rival that of the golden retriever. However, a new study has found that the ingenious eight-tentacled invertebrates aren’t above bullying behavior, and have been known to punch fishes just for the hell of it.

A new study published Friday in the journal Ecology detailed the discovery, which found that octopuses sometimes throw haymakers at fish for “spite” and also as a means to relieve the boredom of their occasionally lonesome aquatic lives.

The clever cephalopod may be the schoolyard bully of the ocean deep.

Study co-author Eduardo Sampaio, a researcher at the University of Lisbon and the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, was thrilled by the discovery, and said in a tweet that he had an absolute blast uncovering the unsettling details of the creature’s aggressive antics.

“OCTOPUSES. PUNCH. FISHES!!” Sampaio wrote, adding: “This was probably the most fun I had writing a paper. Ever!”

Like many creatures in the natural world, octopuses and fish have been known to hunt together, taking advantage of each other’s strengths and methodically communicating and working in tandem when hunting smaller fish. The alliances are often temporary, lasting over an hour at a time.

When this happens, octopuses will use their eight tentacles to pursue prey while fish scour the area or patrol the water column, even using their bodies to communicate where prey are attempting to hide.

However, big blue octopuses aren’t always satisfied with the efforts of their fish partners, and when this happened they apparently clock their fishy friend right in their scaley dome.

The octopus takes a swing that resembles “a swift, explosive motion with one arm directed at a specific fish partner” in an attack “which we refer to as punching,” the scientists wrote.

The act could be a means toward encouraging fishes to simply work more effectively, as scientists found. “[Actively] punching a fish partner entails a small energetic cost for the actor (i.e. octopus),” the researchers wrote.

The researchers observed no less than eight different octopus attacks on fishes between 2018 and 2019 while diving in the Red Sea, with victims including squirrel fish, blacktip, lyretail, groupers, yellow-saddle and goatfishes.

“We’ve never seen permanent marks or anything like that from getting punched, but can’t say for sure if fish are hurt or not. It’s clear they don’t like it!” Sampaio wrote in a tweet.

And while six of the altercations were clearly a matter of the octopus keeping their fish partners in line, at least two of the incidents were likely a form of “spiteful behavior” or even “punishment.”

“I laughed out loud, and almost choked on my own regulator,” Sampaio later told Live Science. “But I still marveled at it every time I saw it.”

“The fish would get pushed to the edge of the group, or would actually leave the group,” he continued. “Sometimes after a while it would return, other times it would not return at all. The octopus would leave the fish alone after displacing it.”

While some might see octopuses as miniature sea monsters, the invertebrates are actually contemplative, thoughtful creatures who are known to give hugs – especially while high on MDMA – have dreams, and socialize with one another.

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