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Strangely satisfying new research documents octopuses punching fish during collaborative feeding sessions. The octopuses primarily do it for practical reasons, but sometimes these underwater jabs seem to be purely spiteful.
Octopuses like to punch fish. As the authors speculate in their paper, published in Ecology, these punches are thrown to “prevent exploitation and ensure collaboration.” In some cases, however, the octopus-on-fish violence couldn’t be connected to anything in particular. In other words, the octopuses were being total dicks. That, or there’s something about this punching behavior that’s still not understood.
The octopuses performed “a swift, explosive motion with one arm directed at a specific fish partner, which we refer to as punching,” the authors write. Victims included tailspot squirrelfish, black tip, yellow-saddle, and Red Sea goatfishes.
The punches could be thrown by the octopus to maintain control over fish behavior, to banish certain fish from the group, to deter them from prey, or for purely selfish reasons—that is, to gain immediate access to a meal...punching may be a form of aggression with delayed benefits...where the octopus pays a small cost to impose a heavier one on the misbehaving partner, in an effort to promote collaborative behavior in the following interactions.
These multiple observations involving different octopuses in different locations suggest that punching serves a concrete purpose in interspecies interactions,” according to the paper.
but sometimes these underwater jabs seem to be purely spiteful.
Octopuses Like to Punch Fish
The theory is that fish punching is how the octopusses keep the fish in line and generally, that they're kind of just dicks.