mercredi 28 juin 2017

Offre : Cognition chez le poulpe, CRCA, Université Toulouse 3

Should we isolate octopuses? Impact of social environment on the octopus’s cognitive abilities as an indirect indicator of animal welfare

Dates: été 2017
Host Institution: Dr. Graziano Fiorito, Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn, Napoli
Co-supervision: Dr. Aurore Avarguès-Weber, Centre de Recherches sur la Cognition Animale (CNRS/Université Toulouse 3), Toulouse.
Contact : aurore.avargues-weber [ chez ]

Please add with your application in French or English, a CV, letter of motivation and name(s) of referent(s)


When maintained in captive conditions, octopuses are usually kept in isolation in individual tanks to prevent territorial behaviour and agonistic encounters occasionally reported to cause cannibalism (Ibáñez Keyl, 2010). On the other hand, aquaculture practice requires maximization of growth and often uses group-living as a choice (Estefanell et al., 2012). However, most octopus species have solitary-living habit, which further support isolated rearing conditions.

These animals are very attentive to conspecifics’ behaviour; they express typical social communication through body visual patterns (Packard Sanders, 1971; Scheel et al., 2016) and demonstrate social learning capabilities (Fiorito Scotto, 1992): octopuses (Octopus vulgaris) indeed acquire by observation the preference between artificial preys shown by a conspecific individual that was previously trained to associate this artificial stimulus with a food reward. This experiment shows that this solitary-living species naturally acquired socially provided information.

It is therefore possible that continuous social visual interactions (see also Tricarico et al., 2011) would provide a stimulating cognitive context due to environmental enrichment and information gathered from the conspecific. The question is whether a social context may be acceptable (sensu Bracke et al., 1999) or even stimulating in a rearing context for a solitary-living animal with adequate cognitive capabilities.

In this project, we wish to compare learning performance and classical welfare indicators between octopuses raised either in isolation or with constant visual access to the tank of an other octopus.

Octopuses (Octopus vulgaris) collected in Naple’s bay will be reared in individual tanks. Half of them will nevertheless have the possibility to see another individual in an adjacent tank separated by a transparent divider. Such a dual tank would prevent physical aggression between animals. The animal will be allocated in pairs on the basis of similar body size to avoid asymmetrical social influence as dominance in conflict seems established through size judgement in octopus (Boyle, 1980). The octopuses will then be trained and tested for simple associative visual learning first (presentation of two visual objects, only one being associated with food) but also for conceptual learning abilities (rule learning: ‘Delayed-Matching-To-Sample’ task and/or numerical abilities). Cognitive performances will be compared between socially isolated and pairs rearing conditions. Parameters such as time spent hidden or in exploratory behaviour and latency to catch food would be recor!
ded as indicators of the animals’ welfare in both conditions.

Expected results and outcomes

- Observation of the influence on animal basic behaviours (exploration – food catching) of the presence of a social environment on a long term perspective (2 months)

- Information on octopuses’ abilities to solve relational rule learning task as not yet demonstrated to our knowledge in cephalopods despite the known sophistication of their neural system and behaviours (Borrelli Fiorito, 2008; Edelman Seth, 2009).

- Elements about the emulative or negative influence of conspecific visual perception on cognitive performance.


Travel, accommodation and basic living expenses will be covered.

Backgrounds/skills requested

A background in ethology, cognition and prior experimental expertise would be appreciated.
Candidates with a master degree will be favoured but other candidates welcomed.


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. Bracke, M. B., Spruijt, B. M., Metz, J. H. (1999). Overall animal welfare reviewed. Part 3: Welfare assessment based on needs and supported by expert opinion. NJAS wageningen journal of life sciences, 47(3), 307-322.
. Edelman, D. B., Seth, A. K. (2009). Animal consciousness: a synthetic approach. Trends Neurosci, 32(9), 476-484.
. Estefanell, J., Roo, J., Fernández-Palacios, H., Izquierdo, M., Socorro, J., Guirao, R. (2012). Comparison between individual and group rearing systems in Octopus vulgaris (Cuvier, 1797). Journal of the World Aquaculture Society, 43(1), 63-72.
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. Tricarico, E., Borrelli, L., Gherardi, F., Fiorito, G. (2011). I know my neighbour: individual recognition in Octopus vulgaris. PLoS ONE, 6(4), e18710.