Are You Smarter Than a Cephalopod?

nova-cephalapodTonight on NOVA scienceNow, brace for an IQ test: Man versus cuttlefish, and the results aren’t always pretty.

Nova scienceNOW: How Smart Are Animals?
Wednesday, February 9, 8:00 pm on WOSU TV

Cephalopods—octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish—are some of the weirdest creatures on Earth. They perform fantastic feats of camouflage, boast surprisingly large brains, and can even solve problems—like how to get shrimp out of a twist-top jar. But are these behaviors truly a sign of intelligence?

Off the coast of Honduras an experiment in dolphin communication is being attempted for the first time in 20 years—one that could prove that dolphins can, in effect, “speak” with one another to coordinate their behavior.

Gazing inquisitively through its “W”-shaped pupils as its suckered arms hang down from its face, the cuttlefish might seem alien to us, but it could tell us more about ourselves than we realize. For nearly 20 years, marine biologist and animal behaviorist Jean Boal, an associate professor at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, has been studying cuttlefish and other cephalopods—a class of molluscs that also includes octopuses and squids. Her research focuses on finding out what these animals know and why they have evolved such large and complex brains compared to other invertebrates. In this interview, Boal explains her work with cuttlefish and what these intelligent invertebrates could tell us about human learning abilities.

I do find it more challenging to design experiments for octopuses in some ways than for cuttlefish. But for both animals, the ultimate question is, am I smart enough to find out how smart they are?

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA scienceNOW.

– Scott