How Complex is Cephalopod Communication?

ckeiser

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Martin Moynihan and A. Rodaniche believed that Sepioteuthis sepioidea had a complex visual signaling system on the magnitude of language. Since then, most researchers have dismissed this belief saying that a cephalopod with 10-40 body patterns does not equal the "infinite" signals exhibited by a language.

Does every language need to be in the confines of human language (i.e. grammar)? What about the Bees waggle dance?

With new information on polarized light signaling and chemical communication, do you think multimodal signaling is present in some cephalopods?

I just wrote my thesis on this topic :grad:, so I'm very interested to hear what other cephalopod researchers/keepers/fans think.

I have lots of resources on the topic if anyone wants to read up (if anyone else is as geeky as I)!
Cheers.
 

cthulhu77

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No, language certainly does not have to be via the "sapiens" idealistic of verbal communication.

If a picture is worth 1000 words, I am sure that cephalopods can make some serious masterpieces.
 

monty

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I'd love to read a thesis and the other references you refer to... I've been intrigued with this possibility for years, although I've noticed similarly that most researchers are dismissive of the "language" theory. I think it's actually somewhere on a line; dogs and cats and birds, for example, clearly communicate but may not have a "grammar," while chimps and dolphins show some degree of more linguistic. Where cephs are on this line isn't clear, but they certainly show a lot more sophistication than clams and snails.

Is your thesis PDF available for download anywhere?
 

ceph

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A rose by any other name

Tricky questions – there are papers on observational learning, tool use, personalities, laterality, play, enrichment and yes, even the proposal that reef squid have a language. Some of this work is controversial. A number of respected friends and colleagues are active in these new areas. A lot of the controversy depends on whose definitions you use. Interestingly, some of the cases where I’m on the skeptic side it is the definitions that I think is sloppy, not the interpretation that the results fit the definition. Almost always these definitions are commonly accepted for other better studied groups of animals, especially mammals.

Here is a quick example, when I googled “definition: biology, play” I got this site
(http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Play). It has 8 definitions of the word “play”. Can you find even one of them that could be applied to any animal – even a common well studied one like a dog? Other than “dogs playing poker”, I can’t find a single match. I guess that mean dogs don’t play. What if despite these eight definitions you think dogs do play? Can you find even more definitions, some from published peer reviewed papers, and chose one that fits? So now dogs do play! In observing the same behavior in the same animal there can be two very different answers – different semantics, different interpretations. Rinse, repeat and apply to something much more different than a mammal and the waters get even murkier – and to some, even more interesting!

Multimodal signaling – very likely – don’t forget to consider lateral line information in addition to visual, chemical, etc.

Some cephalopods, male Caribbean reef squid for example, can exhibit multitasking multidirectional signaling – sending two different signals to different receivers at the same time. This is very cool to see – I’ve got a good shot of it and Roger Hanlon has excellent video of this behavior.
 

Noadi

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Hmmm... this is a good question. I think it's very likely that some cephalopods have multimodal signaling. There's just so much we don't know yet about their behavior and abilities. Whether studying them in the wild or the lab there are so many limitations to both.
 

ckeiser

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An exceptional point, Dr. Wood. 'Definitions' in biology, and indeed all fields of research, represent a fundamental difficulty in scientific inquiry - attempting to test hypotheses while remaining unbiased and with sufficient reproducibility. A few examples: the multitude of definitions for what, exactly, a species is, and, more closely related to our studies, the many different names given to a particular ceph body pattern by different researchers or observers.
However, these hardships (including the limitations to which Noadi is referring) are one of the many reasons that make science so interesting!

Electroreception as a means of communication would be an amazing topic to look into.
 

Mr. Cuttles

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Cephalopods. Semaphore. Think of the possibilities!

If I recall, some cephalopods (particularly males) can communicate sexual intention by shifting their color scheme. The only site that I can readily find that mentions this is http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/02/the_cephalopod_sex_series.php (the article "tentacle sex" in particular), though I'm sure you could find more if you tried. In my very limited experience, if a species has any form of communication, you can be pretty sure that sex is part of it.

Count on good ol' PZ Myers to write about tentacle sex.
 

ckeiser

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Absolutely, Señor Cuttles. some species (especially Sepioteuthis sepioidea and Sepia apama) have amazing body patterning involved with their mating rituals.
I love watching a small male cuttlefish signal as if he were a female, only to sneak past the larger males and subsequently copulate with their mate-guarded female (these are sometimes called "sneaker-males"). Mwahaha!
 

Shanks

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ckeiser;139652 said:
Electroreception as a means of communication would be an amazing topic to look into.

Even for a layman, absolutely. Do any teleosts do this? Or is their lateral line "sense" strictly a predator/prey detection mechanism? It wouldn't surprise me if once again cephs managed to find a higher purpose for their anatomical features, it's almost as if they're constantly exploring what they can do with their bodies.
 
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