With 289 species of octopus living in the world’s
oceans one would think they were relatively easy to find when diving or
snorkeling.However, we can spend
hundreds or even thousands of hours in the water and never see one although
they have probably seen us.
‘eight footed’, are one of the most fascinating and intelligent species in the
sea.They are classified as Cephalopods
(translated as a head with feet), and are related to Cuttlefish, Squid, and the
Nautilus.In fact, marine scientists
believe that the octopus evolved from the Nautilus some 490 million years ago,
well before there were fish in the seas and animals on land.
The size of
octopus varies widely from the tiny California octopus that is 1" long
when mature to the Giant Pacific octopus having an arm span of 25 feet and
weighing over 400 pounds.Their lives
are short with the smallest species living an average of 6 months while larger
species live approximately 3 years.
Octopus are generally shy, reclusive, often nocturnal, and pose
virtually no threat to man as long as they are not harassed.
That said if an octopus is threatened it
would use its powerful bird-like beak to inflict a painful, damaging bite.
The beautiful little Blue-Ringed Octopus of
Australia is the only species that carries highly toxic venom, which can kill
considered to be one of the most intelligent marine animals. Studies in labs
and in the wild have proven time and again that they have advanced thought
processes that enable them to solve problems, build shelters, trap prey, and
escape confinement.During early lab
studies scientists were baffled when fish populations in tanks were dwindling
despite the fact there were no bodies in the morning and no way for the fish to
escape.What they discovered was that
octopus in tanks nearby were climbing out of their tanks at night and into the
fish tanks to dine.When observers were
left in the labs at night to watch how the octopus escaped their fully enclosed
tanks nothing happened and the octopus stayed put. After several nights the
observers gave up their vigil and the fish tank raids began again.
After many years
of searching for octopus while diving my efforts were rewarded recently as I
swam along the edge of a reef and noticed a rock that seemed somewhat out of
the ordinary.As I turned back toward
the rock to examine it the rock suddenly swam towards me.
I spent 90 minutes swimming along the reef
with a Common Octopus (octopus vulgaris) as it changed colors and textures to
match its surroundings.One minute it
was smooth skinned, the color of the sand on which it rested.
The next minute it spewed powerful jets of
water from its siphons and shot along the reef to land next to sponges
whereupon its skin became a mottled, dimpled brown. A few minutes later the octopus propelled itself to a patch of
sand from which a very dark strip of rock protruded. To my amazement the octopus turned itself white with a wide black
stripe running down its midline.Sadly
and with dwindling air supply I left the octopus on a coral head where he had
turned himself a yellowish red and his skin had become peaked with hundreds of
tiny points.As I swam away that
morning a large group of divers passed over the octopus, only a foot distant
and not one noticed he was sitting on that coral head in all his magnificence.