Abnormal behavioral episodes associated with sleep and quiescence in Octopus insularis: Possible nightmares in a cephalopod?

Posted to biorxiv on May 12, 2023

Eric A. Ramos, Mariam Steinblatt, Rachel Demsey, Diana Reiss,  View ORCID Profile Marcelo O. Magnasco

doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2023.05.11.540348


This paper presents some unusual behaviors observed in one single specimen of O. insularis. While nothing can be concluded rigorously from such data, we share the data and our analysis with the community, in the hope that others will be on the lookout for such rare events. Sleep is a fundamental biological function that is present in all tested vertebrates and most invertebrates.

Cephalopods, such as octopuses, are cognitively complex animals that display active and inactive sleep states similar to those of vertebrates. In particular, octopuses have active sleep states during which they display sequences of camouflage patterns and modulation of basal rhythms, while remaining relatively unresponsive to outside stimuli. Some scientists have speculated that these states could be analogous to dreaming in mammals, involving episodic recall with a narrative structure. The convergent evolution of sleep in neurologically complex animals is a striking possibility, but its demonstration requires overcoming significant challenges. Towards this end, capturing abnormal sleep-associated episodes and other parasomnias in cephalopods can provide further insight into the biology of their sleep. This study reports abnormal behavioral episodes associated with transitions between activity states and sleep states observed in a male Octopus insularis. The study used continuous video monitoring to characterize the animal’s activity patterns and detect rare behavioral episodes. Over the course of a month, four brief episodes (duration range: 44-290 seconds) were identified during which the octopus abruptly emerged from quiescent or active sleep, detached itself from its sleep position, and engaged in antipredator and predatory behaviors (with no predator present). The longest of these episodes resembled the species-typical response to a predatory attack, suggesting that the animal may have been responding to a negative episodic memory or exhibiting a form of parasomnia. These findings, in conjunction with recent evidence for sleep in octopuses, highlight the complexity of possible sleep-associated behavioral episodes. Investigating sleep in invertebrates is crucial to understanding the evolution of sleep across distantly related species.

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