An Octopus by any other name...

Swimming in the sea when I was around 8/9, I had my snorkelling mask on, looking for shiny shells to give to my aunt. As I peaked into a rock crevice I stared at something so weird that my brain just could not compute what it was.  A giant eye staring back at me. When I finally got the signal from my brain about the eye I screamed in the water and swam away. A few seconds later, overcome by curiosity, I swam back to the rock crevice and cautiously, keeping a safe distance, peered in. This time I could see both eyes, and the squishy head, with its mottled, changing colours, blending into the background then switching colours again and standing out. As I came closer the head suddenly squeezed out of the crevice, tentacles crawled out behind it, then it contracted propelling its body forward in a flash of black ink and water. I just floated there my mask surrounded by black ink, blinking at the spot it once occupied. Mesmerised. 

Since that day I have loved the Octopus.  

A young octopus is overcome by curiosity and approches my foot as I stand on a rock.

 

I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm for this eight-legged, slimy, slippery, "monster of the deep", unless of course its chopped up in some salad,  stew or pasta dish. But I am fascinated and entranced by every member of the Cephalopod family; from the versatile octopus to the lithe squid, the adorable cuttlefish and the enigmatic nautilus.  Cephalopod literally means head-foot which is pretty appropriate description of most of them. This class of molluscs have been around for approximately 500 million years. They once ruled the oceans being the most dominant group of animals. Now there are around 800 species left. To make this blog brief I will stick to the Octopus. Here are a few fun facts and internet assembled media:  

1. There are approximately 300 species of octopus in the world today. Some are scary and others just so down-right adorable, it's even in their name! E.g. the Dumbo octopus, Octopus 'Adorabilis', and the scary but stunning Giant Pacific Octopus - 9 meters in width and an arm span the size of a truck! 

2. They have three hearts and, unlike royals, actually have blue blood due to the copper-rich hemocyanin (instead of the iron-rich hemoglobin we have) plasma that caries oxygen around their bodies.  

3. They have a well developed centralised brain and highly developed eyes but even more incredible is that they can actually perceive light with specialised skin cells called chromatophores

4. This helps them with their next amazing skill - camouflage. These light perceiving cells in their skin can change colour by relaxing or contracting. The absolute master of disguise is the mimic octopus

5. They are super-smart, have both short- and long-term memory, can problem-solve, enjoy playing and have personalities.  

6. They all have beaks and all are venomous, paralysing their prey with a sharp peck. Thankfully none really pose a threat to us however one species, the beautiful blue-ringed octopus, is very dangerous to humans.

7. A female octopus will lay hundreds to thousands of eggs which she will lovingly guard, aerating them, never leaving their side until the day they hatch and she dies. In 2014 scientists published the findings of a female octopus who guarded her eggs for 53 months, i.e. 4.5 years, till they hatched and she died.

 8. No matter their size they can squeeze through a hole the size of a coin. Which makes them great escapologists

 

Me standing next to a famous star at Seattle aquarium, Kong - the giant pacific octopus.

To finish 'Octopus I love you' by Dalmatian Rex and the Eigentones. Enjoy and remember, love the Octopus!