Female octopuses shed shells and algae at males during unwanted mating attempts

Researchers from Australia, the United States and Canada have studied videos of octopuses in the wild and found that females were generally more likely than males to throw things.

In the videos, they use their arms and siphon water jets in a coordinated way, sometimes hitting other octopuses.

In most cases, this throwing material gesture served to move the material around, for example to remove food scraps or other leftover materials, but they also observed that it sometimes had a different purpose: they wanted to drive away a nearby male.

Female octopuses use this strategy to avoid forced copulation: perhaps talking about “rape” has an excessive emotional charge that cannot occur in the animal kingdom. But there is no word that describes forced copulation between non-humans, so it is used regardless.

In one case, in December 2016, a single female octopus shed material ten times, hitting a male on five occasions, as described in the published preprint study. As the researchers explain:

The force does not come from the arms, as in a human launch, but these extremities prepare the projection of the material, which will then be propelled by the jet. In general, the release is seen more frequently in females. And, in fact, we’ve only seen a marginal repulsion release in a single male.

Throwing objects is not a common behavior in animals, although chimpanzees, capuchins, elephants, mongooses, and birds have been known to do it. Casting-related actions have also been observed in other animal species, such as the movement of irritant hairs by spiders and the squirting of water by archerfish.

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