How would you like to be able to turbocharge your memory at will? College would have been much better if we'd been able to spend every lecture at the local bar and just flip through the textbook before the exam. It's possible, if you're an octopus. Also possible if you're an octopus: Playing four tiny violins at once.
The octopus is a notoriously sarcastic creature.
But it's the memory thing we're talking about here. Unlike other invertebrates, the octopus has a developed short-term memory and long-term memory, collectively powered by half a billion neurons. Its closest mollusk relatives, for comparison, have around 20,000. So already they're pretty remarkable, in that their memory works more like ours than a lobster's.
They don't have the lobster's excellent song writing and conducting skills, however.
But while humans also possess a complex short- and long-term memory, the octopus is unique because its short-term memory is directly attached to its long-term memory. This means that in times of high stress, where learning quickly could mean survival, the short-term memory can be substantially enhanced by the long-term memory center, transforming the octopus from lumbering beast into shifty genius. It's like the Incredible Hulk in reverse.
"Note to self: Don't trust humans."
Imagine being able to ratchet up your memory under pressure. You could be the world's greatest detective, or a real-life Dr. House with an amazing recollection of obscure medical disorders. Instead this power is going to waste on lame octopus stuff, like performing extremely complex one-man puppet shows.
Have you ever walked into a room and realized you can't remember what you were going to do there? Ever put your keys down and instantly forget where you put them? Get distracted in a conversation and forget what your point was? That kind of thing never happens to cats, thanks to an almost supernatural capacity for short-term memory.
"Don't worry, Frank, I'm gonna eat your mate, but I guarantee his memory will live longer in me."
As we touched on above, your memory -- and that of animals -- is divided into two components: short term and long term. Whatever you're doing right now is always bouncing around in your short-term memory, which is constantly transcribing stuff into your long-term memory. If you get distracted at that crucial moment, then the data might not actually carry over, and everything in your short-term memory gets overwritten and lost, along with the location of your wallet. In a human being, your short-term memory lasts a brief 30 seconds or so.
In cats, it lasts at least 10 minutes.
"Long enough to cut your pretty face."
Scientists discovered this when they ran some simple tests in which they would get a cat to half-step over an obstacle and then quickly distract the shit out of it, likely by dangling car keys in front of its face. They recorded the amount of time that they had to distract it for before the cat lost track of what it was supposed to be doing in the first place. They realized, astoundingly, that the kitty retained its short-term memory 10 to 20 times longer than most other animals.
Hahaha, kitty, we have no idea what we're supposed to be doing right now.
For comparison, dangle your keys in front of your spouse's face while they're trying to concentrate on something, and they're likely to become confused and irritable in a matter of seconds. Try it.
Quick, tell us the location of every coin on your property right now, including the ones resting between sofa cushions and on the floorboard of your car. Tell us exactly how many paper clips you own, and where they are right this moment. Hell, do you even know where your shoes are?
Because you wouldn't catch a certain bird called the Clark's nutcracker forgetting any of that.
His shoes are in the hall closet.
With a name like the Clark's nutcracker, you know at least two things are true -- the bird cracks a lot of nuts, and some guy named Clark wanted to get in on that. But what this bird lacks in a decent, non-candy-bar name it more than makes up for with its amazing memory. While other animals can make you look stupid by remembering nine digits or 30 family members, this unassuming little bird is able to remember the exact location of up to 30,000 pine nuts.
Or one for each person in this stadium.
The bird spends the fall gathering pine nuts and just hiding them around the damn place like an unsupervised toddler. Later, in the winter, when everything is blanketed by a thick layer of snow, it digs them up again to keep itself alive over the long months.
The Clark's nutcracker is able to accomplish this winter gorging through the use of a sophisticated spatial memory, which allows it to recall landmarks, such as trees, to pinpoint the locations of several thousand caches in a 15-mile area. This means they not only have a better memory than you, but they're also much less lazy than you.
Thankfully they're more fluffy and squishy, too, so they will never rise up against us.
And if that's not enough, the Clark's nutcracker's hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with spatial memory, continues to produce neurons into adulthood. So while your memory just fades with age, the bird's is just getting better.
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For more ways animals outshine us, check out 6 Modern Technologies Animals Invented Millions of Years Ago and 7 Real Insect Superpowers That Put Spidey Sense to Shame.