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Octopuses on Ecstasy

September 27, 2018

An antisocial octopus loosens up under the influence of ecstasy.


California two-spot octopus (O. bimaculoides). (Thomas Kleindinst)

A California two-spot octopus (O. bimaculoides). (Thomas Kleindinst)


Octopi on ecstasy. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The octopus bimaculoides, despite having eight limbs, is not a touchy-feely kind of species. The animals avoid each other except when mating, and even then, the larger females often tear their mates limb from limb. But in the journal Current Biology, Johns Hopkins neuroscientist Gul Dolen reports that the drug MDMA, also called ecstasy, makes the animals seek out one another’s company. She says MDMA boosts levels of a brain chemical called serotonin that controls sociability in humans and other mammals. But what about our far more distant relatives?

GUL DOLEN (Johns Hopkins):

I thought this is a great opportunity to test whether or not serotonin had this function back before when vertebrates and invertebrates diverged from each other.


The work is helping her team understand the brain’s evolution. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Story by Bob Hirshon