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Cultural learning behaviour in Southern Reef Squid? Teaching behaviour??


Aug 1, 2019

On July 30th I introduced a newly caught Southern Reef Squid ("Possum") to the tank a smaller one ("Squidouardo") had been in since July 19th, in a quarantine/spare tank in the non-public area of a local public aquarium in Auckland. I took a few video clips - link to shared folder, Youtube playlist, the filenames are timestamps.

Beginning in the 5th video ('20190730_084536') at around the 4 minute 20 second mark and continuing in the 6th video, I think I see Squidouardo teaching Possum how to figure out where the tank walls are, after seeing Possum have trouble with this.

Due to being a particularly skeptical person, and having read of no evidence of 'cultural learning' in cephalopods let alone actual teaching behaviour, or squid giving a rat's toss about the welfare of other squid beyond procreation, and having gotten into squid fishing under the belief that squid are an ideal protein source from an ethical point of view, I am quite determined to get a second opinion or two from actual qualified people, on what I think I'm seeing in these videos.

Details of what I think I'm seeing are below.

Details of the squid behaviour when introducing Possum to the tank

On adding Possum to the tank, Possum seems to be recovering on the bottom for a few minutes. Squidouardo begins by hovering around side-on to Possum, and taking on a pale colour with one longitudinal dark stripe, with an occasional flash brown/gold. (I didn't film much of this, and would be interested if anyone knows what these colours mean.)

When Possum first starts moving about, it makes uncontrolled (no deceleration seen) mantle-tip-first collisions into the wall similar to how Squidouardo did to begin with, as if it didn't see the wall. Squidouardo obviously continues to move as usual in a controlled way anticipating exactly where the walls are.

Squidouardo seems to observe Possum's movements and (as possibly can be seen beginning at 8:45 AM in the video '20190730_084536') leads Possum around the perimeter of the tank (they follow a rather similar path and Squidouardo seems to wait for Possum to follow each leg of it). Starting around the 4 minute 20 second mark, Squidouardo makes an obvious deliberate movement to touch the wall square on from the front (arms/tentacles first), and, u-turns and touches the wall in reverse (mantle tip first), and repeats this for a few repetitions while Possum is stationary (possibly observing). Possum appears to copy and they seem to then take turns demonstrating while the other is observing.

Possum begins to anticipate where the walls are when reversing, turning so it doesn't collide mantle-tip-first. It seems to have mapped out where the wall is (which I think is what Squidouardo was trying to demonstrate how to do in the videos '20190730_084536', '20190730_085612' and '20190730_090315', while Possum was observing and copying and Squidouardo also observing Possum) and makes a turn right next to the wall at the 1 minute mark in '20190730_090315' instead of colliding like it was earlier.

I can't remember how long it took Squidouardo to figure out how to figure out where the tank walls were (since I left fairly early when I dropped off Squidouardo originally) so haven't got a control, and obviously a sample size of 1 isn't statistically significant. What is convincing me the most is the timing of their movements - each is obviously moving and observing the other.

I don't think it's a coincidence what Squidouardo is demonstrating in front of Possum. The behaviour from 4:21 to 4:25 in '20190730_084536' and the whole of video '20190730_085612' - does a squid just do that sort of thing? Doing u-turns and touching a wall square to the surface, quite deliberately and successively, with the tips of tentacles and tip of mantle, and pausing to observe the other squid do the same? Those of you who have seen a newly-caught reef squid (Sepioteuthis sp.) being introduced to a tank with a previously-caught reef squid that has already learned how to navigate a round tank with poorly-visible walls (?), what were your observations on their behaviour in the first hour of introduction? Is there similar behaviour if squid who've already learned to navigate tank walls are introduced instead?

Learning by imitation is already amazing. Deliberately teaching new behaviours after observing a fellow squid making rookie mistakes, though, just seems incredible.



Staff member
May 30, 2000
Welcome Andi -- great first post! šŸ‘šŸ‘

Great videos.... does Possum continuously show the same mastery of the tank walls that Squidouardo does, even now? i.e., are they both equally expert at navigating the tank now? I'd agree, super-impressive stuff.

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