BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Mike Lisieski, a University at Buffalo
psychology major, plans to earn an MD/PhD in neuroscience but for
now he appears to be the web's chief "cephalover," using his blog
to carefully analyze research about octopuses and related animals
and post stunning photographs of them.
He describes his blog, which he started in May, as "documenting
my intellectual love affair with the biology and psychology of our
Asked about recent attempts by humans to use this highly
intelligent species to make sports predictions (for example,
predicting World Cup victors and Brett Favre's on-and-off-again
retirement plans) Lisieski (pronounced Li-SHES-ki) thinks those
efforts "say a lot more about people than they do about
cephalopods, but if it generates more public interest in them, I
Topics Lisieski, a Pennsylvania native, has tackled on the
cephalove blog range from memory, observation and consciousness in
cephalopods and the neuromuscular dynamics of octopus arm
movements, to exquisite images of the suckers on octopus arms and
their color- and texture-changing skin.
"The reason I decided to do this blog was because there wasn't
much serious discussion about cephalopods on the Internet," said
Lisieski, who will be a senior this fall at UB.
"There were a lot of sites where people wrote about cephalopods,
saying, 'oh this is cute' and 'isn't this cool' and there are a lot
of factoids," he says. "But there wasn't a lot of accessible
information about research on cephalopods," he says.
His readers are increasingly diverse, but many are marine
scientists and/or science writers; one is an artist who draws
Lisieski attributes his interest in octopus, squid and
cuttlefish partly to PSY 647 "Theories of Learning," a UB
Department of Psychology course taught by Assistant Professor
Micheal Dent, which he took last spring in UB's College of Arts and
"That class got me interested in comparative psychology,
particularly as it relates to learning," he says.
While studying for that course, Lisieski came across research
discussing observational learning in which a group of octopuses was
trained to 'attack' a red ball and to leave a white ball alone,
while a second group of octopuses watched. Later, the members of
the second group attacked the "correct" ball, demonstrating that
they had learned just by watching the first group.
"It was surprising to find this ability in the octopus, which is
generally a very solitary animal that seems to have little reason
to be able to learn socially," says Lisieski.
Recently, he discussed in his blog research on the grasping
movements of octopuses.
"The octopus arm is flexible," he says, "it has no bones. But
when it grabs something, the arm stiffens and bends, forming a
joint that works like an elbow. They use it like a lever to
retrieve an object, but then the joint disappears and the arm is
That behavior, so similar to the behavior of humans, is
intriguing, Lisieski says, because it shows up in two species that
are so distinct.
"It's a pretty striking example of convergent evolution," he
says. "That's when similar behavior or features evolve in two
entirely distinct species. If we can discover principles of
behavior common to both cephalopods and people, then it's likely
that they are close to universal principles of behavior because it
means they worked well enough to have evolved independently more
Lisieski, who has loved animals since he was a child growing up
in Irwin, near Pittsburgh, is an avid fan of zoos and aquariums. He
says he is especially fond of "Twister," the giant Pacific octopus,
which is among the world's largest octopus species, currently
residing in the Niagara Falls Aquarium.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, a flagship institution in the State University
of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus.
UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests
through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional
degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a
member of the Association of American Universities.