Scuba diving in Australia recently, I came across a tyre.
I can hear you thinking ‘what exactly is so special about a tyre… isn’t that just an ugly piece of marine debris?’
In the middle of this tyre was two big, bulging eyes. A giant common octopus had made this tyre its home. As I hovered about 5 metres away, I watched this pair of eyes as they watched me. Every time I moved my fins, these eyes would duck back down into the tyre, only to slowly creep up again to continue surveying me a few seconds later.
Octopus are one of the most intelligent, inquisitive and misunderstood animals to inhabit the ocean. Far from the slimy monsters that lurk in the depths of ancient myths (and plastered on bottles of Kraken Rum), octopus are clever, unique and so much fun to see underwater.
I have spent many a dive in just a few metres of water playing tug of war with an octopus, steadily getting more frustrated as I realise this animal that could almost fit in my hand was stronger than me. Fortunately, someone out there realised these animals are so special that they deserve a day dedicated entirely to them. And so, October 8th every year marks International Octopus Day. To celebrate this annual day of Cephalopod love, we’re throwing out eight (one for each tentacle) of the coolest facts about our boneless and beautiful underwater friends.
They can change way more colours than a chameleon can.
The reptile most renowned for it’s colour changing ability, the chameleon, is no match for the octopus. While chameleons can only change a small handful of colours and patterns, cephalopods can change between 30 and 50 different colours. And they can do all this in seven tenths of a second.
Octopus have no bones.
So they can squeeze through any hole bigger than about a quarter. They’re like that green goo in the kids movie ‘Flubber’. Check out the clip below to see a slightly disturbing but very cool video of an octopus making its way out of a beer bottle.
Like a parrot, Octopus eat with a beak.
And all octopus are venomous. Octopuses have a beak that is made out of the exact same stuff as our hair and fingernails, and they use this beak to inject their prey. Not to fear though, because there is only one octopus that has venom fatal to humans, and that’s the tiny Blue Ringed Octopus.
They are hoarders.
The Beatle’s song ‘An Octopuses Garden’ isn’t just catchy, it’s true. An octopuses home can be seen strewn with sea treasures all around. Octopus are the first invertebrate to have been observed using tools. They use bits of their lunch, such as crab shells and other items scavenged from the sea floor to hide from their predators, building a makeshift fort around themselves.
They ‘see’ with their suckers.
Each one of an octopuses’ 1600 suckers is incredibly sensitive, and they use these to not only feel, but to smell what ever they have their tentacles wrapper around. These suckers are insanely strong, and a large sucker can hold around 15 kilos. Imagine that strength times 1600! A whopping two thirds of an octopuses neurons are located in its arms, so their head can do one thing while their tentacles can concentrate on another. How’s that for multitasking?
After mating, they die.
This must be the most tragic and brutal fact of them all. An octopuses love life is like a bizarre and slightly gross version of Romeo and Juliet. Octopus mate through external fertilisation. Males will either quite literally hand the female their sperm, or insert it themselves into the tube she uses to breathe through. After this, the male will leave the scene to die. Once the female has laid her eggs, she experiences cellular breakdown and she too, will die. #romance.
They can solve complex puzzles.
Octopuses are known for being cheeky and very clever. They have the ability to solve complex mazes and puzzles and there have been plenty of rumours of octopuses outwitting their keepers in aquariums. They can undo childproof containers, and one octopus in a New Zealand aquarium has even been trained to take photographs of guests.
Octopi is not the plural of Octopus.
So quit using it! I’m guilty of using ‘octopi’, but if you want to sound like you know your stuff you need to use the correct plural term of ‘octopuses’.
Next time your on a live aboard diving adventure keep an eye out for the underrated but incredible octopus. They’ll be so well camouflaged that they can be hard to spot, but once you do you’ll realise just how fascinating these cephalopods really are.