Alien of the Deep
Are you ready to embark on an exciting journey into the world of octopuses? Fear not, as we promise that there won’t be any ink-idents along the way. For centuries, these eight-armed creatures have captivated human imagination with their unique appearance and extraordinary abilities. In fact, some scientists consider octopuses the closest thing we have to meeting an intelligent extraterrestrial being! Join us as we explore the depths of the octopus world and discover the wonders that lie within.
Octopuses have been around for millions of years, with the earliest known fossils dating back to around 296 million years ago. There are about 300 different species known to science, and they come in all sizes, from the teeny tiny species that are only about 2 inches (5 cm) long, to the gargantuan giants that can reach up to 18 feet (5.4 meters) in length with an arm span of almost 30 feet (9 meters). Imagine meeting this Kraken!
Tiny octopus. Credit: Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park Hawaii.
Octopuses are truly remarkable creatures, possessing an exceptional level of intelligence that rivals even some mammals such as dogs. Their nervous system is highly complex, with a common Octopus vulgaris having approximately 500 million neurons throughout its body. About two-thirds of these neurons are located in their arms, with each sucker containing up to 10,000 neurons. This unique neural arrangement grants the arms a degree of autonomy, allowing them to react to stimuli and execute basic movements without any input from the brain. Moreover, the suckers on the arms have the ability to both taste and touch, which enables the octopus to navigate and interact with its surroundings in a highly intuitive way.
Octopus vulgaris from the Mediterranean Sea
Octopuses are carnivorous and feed on a delicious menu of crabs, shrimp, fish, and mollusks. They prefer a solitary lifestyle, inhabiting all of the world’s oceans, from shallow coral reefs to deep-sea trenches. They mate only once in their lifetime, and after mating, the female lays her eggs in chains, which she cleans and cares for until they hatch. The males usually die soon after mating, while the females survive until their offspring are born.
Did you know that octopuses have three hearts? Two of the hearts work exclusively to pump blood to their gills, while the third is responsible for circulating blood throughout the rest of the body. What’s more, the blood that runs through their veins is copper-based, unlike the iron-based blood of most animals. This not only gives their blood a cool blue color but also makes it more efficient at carrying oxygen in cold temperatures.
Octopuses move using jet propulsion. This means they contract their muscles to suck water into their mantle cavity and then force it out through a narrow siphon. By directing the expelled water, they can move and steer in a particular direction. It’s an efficient way to move quickly and gracefully through the water, reaching speeds of up to 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour).
They are masters of disguise, thanks to their skin which contains chromatophores, allowing them to change color and texture to blend in with their surroundings. Not only does this camouflage help them avoid predators, but it is also used to communicate with other octopuses. And when threatened, some octopuses can eject ink, a dark and cloudy substance, to confuse predators and make their escape.
Another impressive trait of octopuses is their ability to regenerate limbs. If an octopus loses an arm, it can regrow a new one in just a few weeks, thanks to its rapid cell and tissue production.
Octopuses are highly intelligent creatures with the ability to solve problems, learn, and adapt to changing environments. They play with just toys for fun, solve puzzles, and open jars to obtain food. They can even squirt water at light bulbs to turn them off, as observed in at least two aquariums.
Working with octopuses in captivity is different from working with other animals because they are aware of their captivity, and their behaviors are affected by it. For example, Stefan Linquist of the University of Guelph observed that octopuses would manipulate their tanks and deliberately plug the outflow valves using their arms, possibly to increase the water level. Unfortunately, this behavior led to flooding the entire lab.
Octopuses also have been known to recognize individual humans and interact with them differently. They are able to distinguish between “nice” and “mean” keepers and adjust their behavior accordingly. Or even dislike someone for no obvious reason like it was in a New Zealand lab where an octopus inexplicably developed a dislike for one particular staff member, resulting in a frequent and unwelcome drenching of a half-gallon jet of water down the back of her neck every time she walked by the tank.
Although they may seem harmless, some species of octopus are among the most venomous creatures in the ocean. The blue-ringed octopus, for example, found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, is one of the deadliest animals in the world, with its venom capable of causing paralysis and death in humans.
Greater blue-ringed octopus
Sadly, octopuses have a relatively short life span compared to other animals. Most species only live for around 1-2 years, although some can live for up to five years. This is due to their high metabolism and the fact that they expend a lot of energy in their daily activities.
Despite their incredible intelligence and remarkable abilities, octopuses are facing significant challenges in their environment. Overfishing and pollution are just two of the many threats that these fascinating creatures are currently facing. It’s our responsibility to do our part in protecting these amazing creatures and ensuring that they continue to thrive in our oceans. After all, with their intelligence and skills, who knows what amazing feats they will achieve next? Maybe they’ll even start their own octopus civilization! Just imagine tiny octopus skyscrapers and octopus cars driving around. Okay, maybe not, but still, they’re still pretty unique creatures.
“For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it.” —Jacques Yves Cousteau
“Marine organisms do not care about international boundaries; they move where they will.” —Paul Snelgrove, Oceanographer
“The world’s finest wilderness lies beneath the waves…” —Wyland, Marine Life Artist
How did you like the episode?
Get the word out!
Love Curious Peoples? Your friends will too.