Do octopi have amazing predictive powers?
NBCSports.com aims to find out.
Inspired by the prognostications of the late, great sports handicapper Paul the Octopus - who correctly picked the winners of eight World Cup matches in 2010 - we recently ventured to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma, Wash., to see if Rocky the Octopus is anywhere near as prescient as his distant cousin.
We set this somewhat easier task for him: Pick the winners of the top three college football bowl games - the BCS championship game, the Fiesta Bowl and the Rose Bowl.
Rocky made his selections in much the same way as did Paul: His handler, aquarium biologist Marc Duncan, took a couple of hard plastic jars recently used to transport piranha and decorated them with the opposing teams' logos. A piece of mackerel was placed inside each canister to draw Rocky's interest.
Then, it was game on.
Rocky, a 1 1/2-year-old Giant Pacific Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), was comfortably folded into a cave in his exhibit when Duncan lowered the first pair of canisters into the tank, adorned with the logos of BCS championship game contenders LSU and Alabama (we started with the most important game, as Duncan wasn't sure if Rocky had the stamina or appetite to get through multiple games in a single session). It took a bit of coaxing with a "feeding stick" to get him to emerge from his hideout, but he soon oozed out and made his pick.
(Watch the video to see his selections in reverse order).
Rocky also gave us a demonstration of how strong an octopus is by quickly snapping the plastic retainer securing the canister to a base and dragging the prize back into this cave to work on opening it.
Duncan was eventually able to fish the canister out of the tank, cracked from being squeezed but with the chunk of fish still inside, and move onto the second game: the Fiesta Bowl, pitting Oklahoma State against Stanford.
This time Rocky seemed to have a tougher time coming to a decision, as he initially positioned himself between the two containers and wrapped a tentacle around each. But after a few moments, he flowed to his right like an eight-legged running back and made his pick.
Then it was on to the Rose Bowl, featuring Oregon and Wisconsin. Rocky was as decisive as a good traffic cop this time, quickly pouncing on his canister of choice.
Duncan, 37, said that Rocky, like other octopi, likes to play games and solve puzzles, which usually involve figuring out how to get a piece of food out of a container of some sort. He's even done paintings, using a contraption that Duncan rigged up that requires him to reach out of his tank and manipulate brushes. "He's extremely smart . interested and curious," he said.
Duncan dropped a couple other fun Giant Pacific Octopus facts on us:
- Females typically lay about 200 to 300 eggs; the young octopi are about the size of a grain of rice at birth but grow quickly, reaching adult size in about six to nine months. In Rocky's case, that equates to a weight of about 60 pounds and an arm span of 6 feet.
- Each octopus has roughly 5,000 color-changing cells that serve as an indication of its mental state: White means fear or agitation, while a "nice red" hue signals contentment.
- Octopi possess sharp eyesight and have some ability to recognize human faces, according to research done at the Seattle Aquarium.
- They are accomplished escape artists, capable of oozing through any opening larger than their beak, the only hard piece of their anatomy.
- The lifespan of an octopus is about three years.
Although Rocky probably will be alive if we want to arrange a repeat performance next year, he'll be hard to find: He's due to be returned to the wild in the next few months to live out his days in his native Puget Sound.