YOUR WEEKLY DOSE OF WOWZERS AND WONDER FROM THE NATURAL WORLD
This week’s sea-dwelling friend is a master of disguise, more flexible than an Olympic gymnast, and supersmart.
They’ve fascinated the world since ancient times and had ancestors who swam with dinosaurs.
We’re talking about the awesome eight-armed octopus!
You’re likely familiar with the octopus. But did you know there are more than 250 species of octopus swimming in Earth’s oceans and waterways?
Based on fossil records, they’ve been a part of life on this planet since at least the Carboniferous period more than 300-million years ago.
That’s a long time for an animal to remain relatively unchanged!
As carnivorous predators, they like to drop on their prey and pull them toward the beak at the base of their arms before it has time to escape.
Their favourite foods include clams, crabs, snails, small fish, and even other octopuses. Octopus in tidal areas have even developed techniques to snatch birds from the water’s surface!
The eight arms sitting below their bulbous head are home to most of their neurons and nerves.
This means that an octopus can explore every nook of its surroundings with surprising quickness, even in total darkness, since its arms operate nearly independently.
Octopuses are capable of performing very complex movements. One individual at the Seattle Aquarium was known for being able to open child-proof medicine bottles!
Researchers have also observed wild octopuses using coconut shells, rocks, and other items as tools—a skill reserved for a select few animals including chimpanzees, dolphins, and crows.
Capable of changing the colour of their entire body in less than half a second, octopuses prefer to hide than fight.
While they can navigate nearly any terrain thanks to their sucker-covered arms, and are capable of fitting into shockingly small spaces, they’re not the fastest creatures around.
They can dart away at up to 40 kilometres (24.85 miles) per hour, but their blood stops flowing when they swim, so they can only do so in short bursts.
And while they’ve been around a long time, they’re not the longest-living creatures either. Most species will only live for a few years—with some living for only months.
Both male and female octopuses die after breeding. But they make up for this by having huge families. A single female can lay up to 400,000 eggs!
This relatively quick lifecycle means that octopus populations are alive and well in most areas they call home.
Octopuses have three hearts! Two supply blood to their gills while the third circulates blood throughout the rest of their body.
Because they live so deep in the ocean, octopuses rely oncopper in their blood to transport oxygen rather than the iron we depend on in our blood. This means their blood—called hemocyanin—is blueinstead of red!
While most octopuseslive in the ocean, some freshwater octopuses live in rivers and can reach lengths of up to nearly a meter (3 feet) long.
The soft body of the octopus allows it to live in some very extreme environments. Researchers have found them as deep as 10,000 feet below the ocean’s surface!
Explore more of the odd and fascinating things that make octopuses a one-of-a-kind creature—and likely one of the smartest in the ocean.