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Octopuses move their arms without sending a message back to their brains. But if they don't know where their arms are, how do they avoid getting tangled up? A new study has the answer.

New study reveals how octopuses avoid getting arms tangled up

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, May 16, 2014, 2:08 PM - The suckers on octopus arms can grab onto just about any smooth surface -- and it's done without communicating the location of the arms to the brain. But octopuses have no idea where their arms arm are and their suckers are incredibly sticky, how do they avoid getting tangled up?

A new study published in Current Biology has the answer.

Researchers have determined that octopuses produce a chemical signal that tells its some 2,000 suckers not to stick to octopus skin.

But here's the neat part: They have the ability to turn off the signal so they can grab hold of another octopus, or themselves, if they want to.

When an octopus loses its arm in the wild the arm remains active for about an hour after.

The researchers began by amputating an arm from common octopuses in their lab in the most humane way possible.

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Lead author Guy Levy of the Hebrew National University of Jerusalem told the Smithsonian that amputation is "not a traumatic event for the octopuses," adding that "they lose arms in nature many times and continue to behave normally, and the arm grows back.”

Scientists then put an octopus in a tank with different objects, like fish, amputated arms, shrimp and petri dishes covered in octopus skin.

During the experiment, the amputated arm never got attached to itself, nor did it latch on to the live octopus.


Researches believe that octopuses may pave the way to smarter, more efficient robots.

The University of Jerusalem is working with a European team called STIFF-FLOP that's hoping to engineer a flexible robot arm similar to an octopus tentacle to create medical devices.

"A mechanism like the one we found here can be of great help to the engineers," says Levy told the Smithsonian. "If the manipulator has to crawl through the pipes of the intestines, it can be programmed to avoid manipulating the intestines walls."

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