Saturday 3 December 2016

Zoo seeks new puzzles for 'intelligent' octopus Ursula

Published 25/08/2015 | 15:53

Ursula the octopus can unfasten catches, unscrew lids and dismantle Lego buildings
Ursula the octopus can unfasten catches, unscrew lids and dismantle Lego buildings

Keepers are appealing for people to invent new puzzles for a problem-solving octopus who can unfasten catches, unscrew lids and dismantle Lego buildings.

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Ursula, a two-year-old common octopus, takes seconds to crack complex challenges set by her keepers at Living Coasts in Torquay, Devon.

She can use her eight gripping arms to open screw lids, manipulate building blocks and undo catches, flip lids and casings.

The marine mollusc is fully mature and has a lifespan of just a few years, with keepers expecting she will die of old age by this winter.

They are now asking for new puzzles for the blue-blooded creature, with people asked not to use metal, toxic materials or sharp and pointed objects.

Clare Rugg, operations manager at Living Coasts, said: "She is very active and inquisitive.

"She took only 10 seconds to open a waterproof casing for a camera - it took a human longer to work it out.

"We give her a lot of what we call environmental enrichment, it's what zoos do to stimulate animals mentally and physically.

"It's like giving toys to pets but with a more scientific basis. We would like to invite people to devise puzzles or games for Ursula."

The inventor of the puzzle that most challenges Ursula will be invited to meet her and her keepers.

"I'm backing Ursula to beat all-comers," Ms Rugg added.

The common octopus has three hearts, camera-like eyes, camouflage skin and striking intelligence.

It is the only invertebrate protected by laws in the UK governing animals used for experimental or other scientific purposes.

Sarah Tingvoll, a keeper at Living Coasts, added: "She is very intelligent, she can undo screw top pots, jars and containers filled with food in seconds.

"We put food inside a house built of Lego bricks and she takes it apart. Then there are systems of plastic pipes and tubes she has to reach into to get food.

"In the past, she has had water pistols, a Mr Potato Head toy and plastic mesh cages.

"We hang up shiny mobiles made of CDs and give her a floating ball to play with. She once squirted me with water when she wanted my glove and I wouldn't let her have it.

"She interacts with anything you put in the tank, including cleaning equipment. One of her favourite games is to grab our cleaning equipment and have a tug of war.

"She is very strong and will always win."

Ideas should be emailed to Living Coasts, which is a registered charity.

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