Meet the intelligent octopus | Sunday Observer

Meet the intelligent octopus

10 October, 2021

The octopus is a sea creature with eight tentacles or arms. The carnivorous creature is usually found in tropical and warm temperate waters. It has a soft body, a well-developed brain and eight arms bearing two rows of suckers each. Its complex eyes are camera-like in structure and their vision is very acute. The octopus can change the colour and texture of its skin rapidly. Although it has a ferocious look, much of its life is spent in hiding. It usually lives in a natural hole among rocks or in a pile of rubble.

It lures its victim by wriggling the tip of an arm like a worm or pounces on a crab sinking its beak into the shell and injecting a deadly poison. When an octopus is attacked, it draws water into its mantle cavity and expels it with great force through a funnel. The result is a jet-propelled exit, usually behind a cloud of ‘ink,’ a dark substance the octopus ejects in self defence.

Like some of us, octopuses are loners. They are territorial to the point of being cannibalistic. They will devour any intruder that dares to challenge them. However, they are reported to be very shy and friendly creatures. When you start reading more about them, you are sure to change your attitude towards the much maligned octopus.

Lonely life at the bottom of the sea

Most of us do not come into contact with octopuses in our daily activities. Just looking at an octopus kept in a glass enclosure in an aquarium will not help you to know anything about them. In order to learn more about octopuses, you have to meet some divers who have seen octopuses in the sea.

Larry Hewitt was one such diver who had frequently wrestled with many octopuses. In an interview with a foreign magazine he said, “When faced with a fight-or-run situation, they prefer to run.” It shows that they are not aggressive creatures. However, if you try to harass an octopus, it will latch on to the nearest hard object. An experienced diver knows how to keep the octopus against his chest. Then he can come to the surface safely with a hug from the octopus. If you want to get rid of it, just tickle it.”

Tentacles helping to find food

We have a great fear that an octopus will hold us with its tentacles and bite us with its beak. Jock McLean, a British Columbia diver, says an octopus will not bite you when frightened. Instead it will resort to other ways to save its life. For instance, it can change its colour to white with fright or red with rage to alarm its enemy. It can also turn green-white, brown, reddish-brown or speckled for camouflage.

Sometimes, it can squirt ink to distract a predator. Instead of challenging a predator, it will try to escape to its den for safety.

Most of us have only seen pictures of octopuses, but there are about 100 species of them ranging from the giants of the North Pacific to the midgets in the South China Sea. However, most octopuses are middle-sized, i.e. they are three or four feet across. Although most octopuses live on the ocean floors of the deep sea, some species found in the English Channel live in shallow waters.

Like most sea creatures, octopuses are carnivores. They feed on crabs, lobsters and other molluses. Occasionally they eat fish. Some of them hunt by daylight while others hunt at night. The suckers help them to grab the victim and pull it to their mouths. Then they bite the food with their sharp beaks. Unless you dive deep into the sea, you cannot see how they hunt for food and behave.

Extremely intelligent and affectionate

Octopuses in captivity, like most other wild animals, become tame and affectionate. Gil Hewlett, the Curator of the Public Aquarium in Vancouver says, “Octopuses like to be stroked. They are quite intelligent and play jokes, too. Once we had an octopus that had a habit of squirting passers-by.”

Octopuses live for about five or six years. According to experts, their growth rate depends on the temperament. If an octopus is very shy, it will seldom venture out to find its food. As a result, its growth will be very slow. However, an aggressive octopus can find enough food and grow to be a big creature.

With all such discoveries, man still fears the octopus. Once, Cecil Brosseau, Director of Point Defiance Aquarium in Tacoma, Washington allowed kindergarten children to feed the octopuses with herring. The children gradually lost their fear of octopuses. According to him, anybody can touch an octopus in captivity and play with it. It will result in a friendly relationship between the two of them.

Personality in animals

Most of us think that only we have personality and intelligence. It is a myth. John Arnold, Embryologist ad Cytologist at Hawaii’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory, says octopuses too have personalities and intelligence. In an experiment he used to feed an octopus with small snails. He gave it six shells each day, but the octopus did not eat them all at once. It used to eat one at a time when hungry. One day, he gave it an empty shell. The octopus immediately inserted an arm tip into it to see whether there was anything in it. It proved that the octopus is an intelligent creature.

If a creature is intelligent, it logically follows that it is also clever. The female octopus is a very faithful mother. She usually lays about 325,000 eggs in a fortnight. It takes four to six weeks for the eggs to hatch. When she starts nesting, she refuses to have food and repels intruders. She blows water on the eggs and runs her tentacles through them to keep them oxygenated. When the eggs hatch, her responsibility is over and she dies. It is a touching story to hear.

We are scared of the octopus largely due to its close resemblance to the squid which has a long body and ten arms. The octopus’s beak and venom are meant for its prey. Only a small blue-ringed octopus found in Australia is poisonous to man. The octopus is not a gruesome monster but a lovable and intelligent creature. It is also one of nature’s wonderful creations.

An anonymous poet has paid a glowing tribute to the female octopus in the following poem:

Ocean’s most devoted mother

Is she the mystical monster of long ago marine fame

Or would her arms tenderly embrace you, gentle, so tame?

With her eight tentacles and three adoring pumping hearts

She’s more than a highly intelligent cephalopod with many parts.

The devoted of mothers, in darken cave hiding her eggs,

Lie a garden of ripening grapes hanging on the ocean’s pegs.

Only her precious cargo of tiny ones is her soul life’s obsession,

One month watching blowing all the while dying of starvation.

She has fulfilled her mother’s promise to her myriad of hatchings,

Surface, cycle of a female octopus, we barely started scratching.

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