It’s easier to accept that elephants, dolphins, wolves, and dogs have personalities. What’s surprising — until you make individual acquaintances — is how deep and widespread the phenomenon of personality is. When you work with hawks, say, you see that each responds a little differently, each hunts a bit differently.
I define personality as individually differing responses to the same stimuli. My friends the professors Peter and Judy Weis of Rutgers University watched researchers at a lab in Italy present a crab in a jar to each of two octopuses. The first octopus popped off the top and devoured part of its prize. “Then it replaced the cap on the jar as if to save the rest for later,” say my friends. The second octopus had been hungrily slithering back and forth across the glass tank, so the scientists expected an instant pounce. But when the jar splashed in, Octopus Two, apparently frightened, darted behind a rock. “It didn’t care what was in the jar.” Peter said. Judy elaborated: “We really don’t appreciate how much personality most animals have. Even as scientists, we’ve hardly ever thought about that.”