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Check the Claim: Do octopuses punch fish out of spite?

SKILL: Check the Claim

DIFFICULTY: Challenging

SUBJECT(S): General, Science

Students will check this claim using a keyword search to learn that scientists have observed octopuses punching fish with no discernible reason.

About the Example

This video depicts an octopus moving its tentacle at a fish in a movement that resembles a human punch accompanied with the text “Scientists found out octopus will randomly punch fish for no reason other than spite.”

By searching this claim using a keyword search (“octopus punch fish”) we find several professional news organizations reporting on this story. A Global News article explains that octopuses and fish are known to hunt together and as a “partner control mechanism,” octopuses in the Red Sea will punch fish with whom they have disagreement. Researchers also saw octopuses lash out at fish when there was no discernible reason, suggesting “spite” or “bullying” as possible motivations.

While the claim in the Instagram post is more or less true, the added context and nuance of the Global News article demonstrates the importance of trading up for better sources if we are interested in learning about a topic.



Activities 

  1. Show students the Instagram video and have them summarize the claim.
  2. Have students conduct a keyword search using terms from the post (“octopus punch fish”)
  3. Have students click into the Global News article in the first few search results. Guiding questions:
    • What additional context does the Global News article provide that is not in the Instagram post? Does it change your understanding of the story? If so, how?
    • How does the language the Instagram post uses to explain the punching phenomenon differ from the language used in the article (below)? Which is more accurate?
      • Instagram post: “Scientists found out octopus will randomly punch fish for no reason other than spite.”
      • Global News article: “The study suggests these unexplained punches might have occurred out of ‘spite,’ or in an attempt to ‘bully’ the fish into co-operating in the future.”


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