octopus suicide story


TONMO Supporter
Staff member
Mar 8, 2004
After having noticed people occasionally ask "do octopuses commit suicide," I found that there is a book on depression that cites a supposed example of an octopus suicide. It's hard to track down the reference, though. The book is The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon, and with a "search inside" for "octopus" on its Amazon pageI was able to find the relevant half-paragraph and footnote:

p. 257: I was fascinated to hear of the suicide of an octopus, trained
for a circus, that had been accustomed to do tricks for rewards of
food. When the circus was disbanded, the octopus was kept in a tank
and no one paid any attention to his tricks. He gradually lost color
(octopuses' states of mind are expressed in their shifting hues) and
finally went through his tricks a last time, failed to be rewarded,
and used his beak to stab himself so badly that he died.

(note)The story of the suicidal octopus I take from Marie Asberg.

This sounds like a pretty questionable interpretation of the events, even if we assume the facts are accurate, but I figured I'd mention this both to see what comments people have, and so that people looking here for information on this can find a reference. I'd like to find the Marie Asberg reference (It's actually Åsberg for those with the right fonts) but no luck so far.

I suspect this is more likely a case of senescence and/or autophagy than one that can be provably attributed to depression in the octopus, but I know the octo keepers can describe behavior that would suggest that octos have "moods" and "personality traits,"
although I suspect that attributing suicidal behavior is anthropomorphizing them more than is warranted by any evidence I've ever heard.

What does everyone else think?
well monkeys commit suicide. As do pet Macaws.

I know they're a bit different from octopuses but the point is that all these animals are intelligent, and while I believe that all animals can suffer pain and do have emotions, no matter how rudimentary, the more intelligent ones are aware of their feelings. I don't believe it's unreasonable that an octopus may feel depressed. as to overwrite the self-preservation factor I'm not so sure. Takes a lot of will-power to break the basic laws of nature. We've been doing it so long we've become habituated to it.
thanks! I had forgotten about that one...

I still think it would be useful to find and examine the original claim about this, since I gather that because it was cited in the book I found it seems to have taken on a lot of credibility... it would be interesting to see if the story, traced back to its origins, supports or counters Colin's views...
I agree -- definitely not trying to kill the thread; just adding to it! Colin's brief article invites input as well... there is much to explore here.
well monkeys commit suicide. As do pet Macaws.

Hi, are there any documented reports of this?
well, I have seen many birds tear through their lung walls and die, a few african grey parrots and several falcons (broken legs at the rehab center)...they seem to just keep on digging away at a small injury, and perforate the body cavity. Yikes.
Colin;85004 said:
Hi, are there any documented reports of this?

I too would be very interested in seeing any scientific documentation on this issue. (Great thread Monty!) I've never before heard of intentional suicide within any species except for humans. Just as Graeme, I have no doubts that many animals can experience emotions similar to what we call depression, severe stress and angst. But being able to overcome the deeply programmed drive to survive, and consciously end your own life, is a phenomenon I've always thought of as something uniquely human. I'm not saying it can't happen within other species, I would just be very curious to see any systematic studies pointing to this.

BTW, I've heard rumors that scorpions have been known to commit suicide by stinging themselves when trapped in fire, but this Wikipedia-article debunks that myth (even if they did sting themselves the venom would have no effect).
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