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Female octopuses repel amorous males by flinging debris and shells!

Recent study shows that female octopuses tend to fend off amorous males by throwing algae, debris and shells at them

Patience wears thin when one is pestered constantly! This is true for octopuses too, who when irritated consistently, take to assailing the offender with debris and shells till they back off!

This is what was discovered by new research, according to an article in sciencealert.com.

The experts observed this strange behaviour by octopuses in 2015 at a place off the eastern coast of Australia, known as Octopolis since these creatures gather there in large numbers. They found them flinging objects at each other.

The study that followed this observation has come to determine that most of these creatures who throw debris and shells, are females and it is suggested that they do so to push back males who are amorous.

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Giving details of this in a pre-print paper the researchers wrote: "The throwing of material by wild octopuses is common, at least at the site described here. These throws are achieved by gathering material and holding it in the arms, then expelling it under pressure.”

The researchers added: "Force is not imparted by the arms, as in a human throw, but the arms organize the projection of material by the jet…Throwing in general is more often seen by females, and we have seen only one hit (a marginal one) from a throw by a male. Octopuses who were hit included other females in nearby dens, and males who have been attempting mating with a female thrower."

It is not exactly an unusual behaviour among animals as many do throw debris at others for varied reasons. It could be as a threat or as part of defensive behaviour or even trapping a prey. Yet, most of these animals throw at other species and not their own.

Finding this behaviour of chucking shells, silt and algae at each other by octopuses, a team led by Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosopher of science, of the University of Sydney decided to observe them.

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They used on-site non-invasive GoPro cameras to record more than 100 such instances of flinging. The creatures holding the material in their arms, would throw it several body-lengths away by using their siphons to blast water on them and propel them.

An interesting aspect was noticed by the researchers while watching the recordings. There were two types of chucking. One was connected with housekeeping which was to keep the dens free of food waste and unwanted objects. The other was targeted. Octopuses, mostly females, were seen tossing material at other members and the most common object were shells – recorded in 55 instances.

Of the total throws, 33 per cent hit the intended target, with slit being the best material for this purpose. Mostly the targets were either males attempting to mate or nearby females.

In 2016, the researchers noticed one female octopus throwing material 10 times in a span of 3 hours and 40 minutes and getting the target five times. What is noteworthy is that octopuses hit, but did not retaliate though sometimes they duck!

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An alternative explanation to this behaviour suggested that the hits are not always targeted as it is an attempt to vent frustration.

The researchers wrote: "Octopuses can thus definitely be added to the short list of animals who regularly throw or propel objects, and provisionally added to the shorter list of those who direct their throws on other animals. If they are indeed targeted, these throws are directed at individuals of the same population in social interactions – the least common form of nonhuman throwing."