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Long Live the Octopus!

Octopus Eye
Octopus Eye, photo courtsey of the BBC

The word Octopus is Greek in origin Octo meaning eight which stands for its arms or tentacles.  So for once and for all the plural of Octopus is Octopuses not Octopie which would be Latin.

It is an ancient creature the oldest known fossil dating back 296 million years ago to the Carboniferous Period.

They are cephalopods, which means head to foot, which are part of the mollusk family.

But an octopus unlike its mollusk cousins, clams, scallops or even their close cousin nautilus, a scavenger cephalopod, who all have hard exterior shells to protect their soft inner body an octopus has no hard shell protect it in fact an octopus has no bones at all!

They are like a clam without a shell,  just pure delicious protein in an ocean teeming with hungry predators.

So they have evolved rather unique and interesting set of coping mechanisms to deal with this problem both antatomically and behavioraly.

So what do you have to be if you are a clam without a shell??


The first and probably the most important defining feature of the octopus is their incredible intelligence.

They have nine brains one large one in the center of their body near their eyes but 2/3rd of their nerve endings are located in ganglion clusters at the base of their tentacles.  An octopus tentacle can operate completely separately from their main brain. Meaning they are highly adapt unlike us at multitasking able to prey open a crustacean and eat it while simultaneously swimming and looking for shelter.  So basically having a brain like an octopus would mean we COULD safely eat, text, talk and drive at the same time.

In lab maze experiments octopuses have demonstrate both long and short term memory skills.

They often tamper with their aquariums and are expert escape artists able to squeeze through the smallest openings with their soft boneless bodies only hampered by the measurement of the one hard surface they possess, which is their beak which they use for feeding located in the center of their body.

In a famous case in 2009 one captive octopus flooded the Santa Monica Aquarium by tampering with an aquarium valve causing 2000 gallons of overflow.

Octopuses spend at least 40 percent of their time in hiding and are masters of camouflage with their skin embedded with chromataphore cells which can change color within a millisecond to blend in with their surroundings they can also change the texture of their skin to make it mimic the rocks or whatever surface they are next to making them almost impossible for their predators to see.

When threatened an octopus can put on a demaic display of wild patterned color to startle or threaten their predators and often squirt a black ink which contains a venomous toxin called tyronsinase which stings their opponents eyes and disturbs their sense of smell thus masking the sent of the octopus.  Their own ink is so toxic it can kill in an octopus if they are trapped in it.

An interesting fact about octopuses is that they like other mollusks have blue blood this is because their blood is copper based using hemocyanin rather than hemoglobin to transport oxygen this copper based blood makes them very susceptible to ocean acidification currently a major problem in oceans worldwide.

Their blue copper based blood allows them to live in very harsh temperatures but at the same time has the disadvantage of moving oxygen at a much slower rate than our red hemoglobin iron based blood.

Which is probably why the octopus like its other cephalopod cousins has three hearts two which are close to the gills and one in the center of their body to transport oxygen to their organs.  While swimming the central heart ceases to function, which is why octopuses for the most part prefer to crawl. This explains why they are not a migratory species.

Octopuses also have excellent eyesight en par with humans only they are nearsighted.  Unlike humans their irises are horizontal slits which sit upon eyeballs which can rotate in three hundred and sixty degrees AND their eyes see polarized light which gives them enhanced vision under water.

All octopuses have relatively short life spans, which end at the time of reproduction.

But IMAGINE if these fascinating creatures so intelligent but so different from us could live longer?  Perhaps they could develop entire civilizations like us?

Long live the Octopus!