The American interior design industry brings in somewhere around $18 billion a year and employs over 145,00 people. That’s a heck of a lot of money, energy, and time devoted to making people’s houses as beautiful, comfortable, and impressive as they can be. Though it might seem like home decorating is a skill that only humans, with our ability for complex abstract thinking, can master, even animals who aren’t as well known for their powerful cerebral cortexes, enjoy adorning their abodes with whatever materials they have available to them.
For instance, male bowerbirds in Australia build elaborate nests in order to attract mates with their home-construction abilities. Decorator crabs search the ocean floor for camouflage and when they’ve found the perfect disguise, they stick the vibrant shells, corals, and other sedentary animals to their body in order to hide from their prey.
And then there’s the mighty octopus.
You might not know it from looking at them, but the octopus might be the most elaborate home decorator in all of the underwater kingdom. The octopus is an eight-armed cephalopod mollusk that is famous for its three hearts, incredible eyesight, and having the highest brain-to-body weight ratio of all the invertebrates.
In short, the octopus is extremely smart. Many scientists believe this is one of the main reasons that it decorates its home. Because of their large brains, the octopus needs to keep itself occupied throughout its day or they end up extremely depressed and even commit self-harm, though there is a bit of an argument now over whether this is actual stress or some kind of disease of the nervous system. The original hypothesis, in any case, claimed that octopi—the plural of octopus—could be driven insane without daily tasks to focus on, one of the most important being its home decoration.
Octopi live in dens which are usually just small nooks or cracks in underwater rock formations. Because the octopus is an invertebrate and has a soft body it can collapse itself very easily and fit into very small spaces. The octopus decorates its den, and sometimes the space right in front of its den, with all kinds of shiny trinkets: shells, stones, coconut shells, they’ve even been known to use bottle caps.
Although the octopus’s penchant for decoration may not be such a well-known fact, everyone has heard The Beatles’ classic “Octopus’s Garden,” which was the only song in their repertoire written by Ringo Starr and was composed after a ship’s captain told the drummer all about how the cephalopods keep a pretty tidy and striking “front lawn.”
For good reasons, humans are obsessed with making their homes as comfortable and beautiful as they can and because of this billions of dollars and who-knows-how-many hours are spent every year buy and selling, storing no longer used decor and perfecting the art of home decoration. Though the interior design industry is a distinctively human phenomenon and the octopus might not be the most attractive creature under the sea, there’s no denying that we have much more in common with these super smart mollusks than we might think.