Octopus

The next time you are ordering sushi, think twice about choosing octopus. Not because an octopus might look unappetizing, but because an octopus is truly a remarkable creature, and like pretty much everything else that lives in our oceans, octopuses are at risk. I always thought that the octopus looks somewhat like an internal organ, or at best, an alien, as this one might lead you to think.

I was drawn to the topic by a segment that was broadcast recently on “CBS Sunday Morning.” Octopuses (not octopi) are brainy, very adaptable to their surroundings, and pound for pound, among the most powerful creatures on earth.

Here are some facts about octopuses: First, they are smart. Maybe not as smart as the photo below suggests, but smart enough to solve problems. They have a relatively large brain, disproportionate to body size.

Octopuses have arms, rather than tentacles. And they are able to regenerate an arm that has been severed.

There are more than 300 species of octopus, which is a cephalopod related to squid and cuttlefish. Octopuses range in size from just centimetres across to the impressive size of the giant Pacific octopus, which averages 16 feet in length and weighs in at 110 pounds, according to National Geographic. The largest known specimen of a giant Pacific octopus measured 30 feet in length and weighed 600 pounds. It was found washed ashore on the coast of British Columbia, Canada. The life span of octopuses are 3 to 5 years, so to get to that size they need to grow quickly. For the average octopus that means a lot of crab. It seems that crab is a favourite in the octopus diet, and while it spells problems for the crab world, it creates a real problem for crab fishermen. Crabs are easily attracted to crab traps, but not quite smart enough to escape the traps. Octopuses, on the other hand, get in and out of the traps quite easily, but not before cracking the crabs with their hard beaks, leaving nothing behind but crab carapaces. Because it lacks a skeleton, the octopus can get through the smallest of openings, with the size determining factor being its walnut-sized beak.

The photo above is from “down under.” An octopus is about to enter crab heaven.

One of the leading authorities on octopuses is Dr. Jennifer Mather, a comparative psychologist at the University of Lethbridge (Lethbridge, Alberta, ironically, is about 450 miles, as the crow flies, from the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Mather grew up in Victoria, BC, where she developed her interest in marine life.) Dr. Mather has been studying octopuses for 35 years, and says that … “What’s interesting about the octopus is about one third of the neurons (nerve cells) are in the brain. They have a huge neural representation in the arms, and there’s a ganglion controlling every sucker, so there’s quite a bit of local control. As humans, we’re very proud of having a pincer grasp—the thumb and forefinger—and we say that’s responsible for our ability to manipulate the environment so well. The octopus can fold the two sides of its sucker together to form a pincer grasp and it can do that with every single one. It has a hundred pincer grasps.”

Dr. Mather believes octopuses are intelligent, have personalities and like to play. They may also be impish, based on what Dr. Mather had to say in an article in “Scientific American” that read: “There’s a famous story from the Brighton Aquarium in England 100 years ago that an octopus there got out of its tank at night when no one was watching, went to the tank next door and ate one of the lumpfish and went back to his own tank and was sitting there the next morning. The aquarium lost several lumpfish before they figured out who was responsible.”

That’s Dr. Mather below. Seems nice. Love the colour of her hair.

“The Women You Should Know” website published a feature on Dr. Mather, in which the following was said about the octopus: “It has multiple hearts, like Doctor Who, sophisticated camouflage capacities like the Predator, jet propulsion like Iron Man, the ability to regrow limbs like Madame Rouge, copper-based blood like Mr. Spock, adaptable hunting strategies like Kraven, the ability to shoot acid like Alien, inject paralyzing venom like Viper, and throw out a senses-numbing ink cloud like a deadly ninja. And all of those attributes are housed in an eight-armed structure with independently articulated suckers that have both fine motor grasping capability (enough to untie surgical stitching) and sufficient power to pull apart a clam.” The next super-hero?