The Intelligence And Consciousness Of Octopuses with Sy Montgomery

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After studying many birds, reptiles, and mammals, naturalist Sy Montgomery decided to study something very different from humans. For several years she made the acquaintance of several octopuses, an animal species that could not be more different from human. They live in the sea, they have no bones, and they breathe water. They can change color and shape and squeeze their body through little openings. They taste with their skin and squirt ink and inject venom, and untie surgical silk with their suckers, yet they have some of the same cognitive and emotional capacities that we do and maybe a whole bunch we don’t. She was most surprised to find that they have personalities and even consciousness. Octopuses are highly intelligent, show their cleverness in myriad ways, and love to play. She describes befriending several of them over a number of years and shares how they can make remarkable connections with individual people. This is a most fascinating dialogue about the meeting of two very different minds, human and octopus. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Sy Montgomery is a naturalist, documentary scriptwriter and author of many books, which often include stories of her encounters with animals. During research for her books, films, and articles, Sy Montgomery has been chased by an angry silver back gorilla in Zaire and bitten by a vampire bat in Costa Rica, worked in a pit of 18,000 snakes in Manitoba, and handled a wild tarantula in French Guiana. She holds an honorary doctorate from the University System of New Hampshire.

Her many books have garnered numerous awards, and include:

To learn more about the work of Sy Montgomery go to

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • How does an octopus display personality
  • How octopuses are truly thinking and feeling individuals
  • Why were octopuses called “devilfish”
  • How octopuses, who are color blind, can change color to blend into their environment
  • Montgomery describes their 8 arms
  • How Montgomery knew what the octopus was feeling about her
  • How their sense of play is one of the sign posts of consciousness and intelligence
  • How octopuses can live outside water for brief periods of time - minutes, not hours
  • What is was like to scuba dive and visit octopuses in their natural habitat
  • How a wild octopus took her on a visit to her underwater neighborhood
  • The Seattle aquarium puts on an octopus Valentines Day every year
  • How does the female octopus care for her eggs

Host: Justine Willis Toms    Interview Date: 1/12/2018   Program Number: 3631

Music Playlist

From Album: Fingerdance
Artist: Billy McLaughlin
1996 Narada #ND-61058

Opening Essay: Track 01 Fingerdance
Music Break 1: Track 02 Hurricane Bob
Music Break 2: Track 03 Helm’s Place
Music Break 3: Track 06, While She Sleeps