A Blue View: Otherworldly Octopuses

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

October 9: 2013 – Otherworldly Octopuses

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss some of ocean’s
most intelligent and amazing creatures!

With eight arms, a bulbous head, thousands of suckers, a tongue covered in teeth, and three hearts, the octopus is like something out of a science fiction movie. And the more you know about these fascinating creatures, the stranger they seem.

They can change body color, texture, and shape to blend in with their surroundings. Even large octopuses can fit through seemingly impossibly small spaces. They can open jars and dismantle objects. Their suckers can actually taste and feel. Some species glow, while others are transparent. Add powerful jaws with a venomous bite and the ability to regenerate limbs, and this is a creature with truly astounding capabilities.

national aquarium giant pacific octopus

Part of the cephalopod family, which also includes cuttlefish and squid, octopuses can range in size, from the octopus wolfi at half an inch and only a few ounces to the giant Pacific octopus, averaging 16 feet across and 110 pounds.

Solitary creatures, most octopus species live alone in dens. Females are known to eat their mates, and females often die after laying and caring for one clutch of eggs.

Most of us don’t perceive mollusks as intelligent creatures, but the octopus isn’t a mindless invertebrate – far from it. Octopuses are surprisingly smart, with one report claiming that their intelligence is on par with that of a domestic cat. The nervous system includes a central brain and a large ganglion at the base of each arm that controls movement. These eight arms operate both independently of one another and together to accomplish tasks. And no doubt about it, octopuses are built to survive.

Should an octopus lose one of its arms, due perhaps to a near-miss by a predator like a shark or seal, the octopus immediately starts regenerating the lost limb, somewhat like a starfish that loses an arm or a lizard that loses a tail. Because octopuses are so effective at this, scientists are studying them to learn the secrets of regrowth in hopes of applying those findings to humans, particularly in regards to tissue regeneration.

Octopuses also avoid predators through camouflage. Masters of disguise, they can change color, texture, and body shape to hide from predators, instantaneously blending in with almost any background. In another protective strategy, octopuses can release ink that obscures an attacker’s view and dulls its sense of smell, allowing a hasty escape. And because it they have no bones, this invertebrates can fit into incredibly small spaces and crevices, making the octopus extremely adept at staying out of harm’s way.

Perhaps one of the most interesting and amazing tactics in all of the animal kingdom belongs to the aptly named “vampire” squid, which is in fact an octopus. This wily deep sea dweller can bite off the end of one of its bioluminescent arms, which then floats away, luring a potential predator with its light and allowing an escape.

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