When it comes to being unappreciated, I think octopuses have it pretty bad (and FYI, it’s octopuses, not “octopi,” despite the assertions of various wiki-based dictionaries). They are so much cooler than you might think.
Lately squid have been getting a lot of attention – what with the first photos of a giant squid being captured last in 2005, and then the first video a few months later. It is understandable, giant squid are pretty damn cool – I actually said a little prayer as a little girl that I would live to see the first video of one.
But people forget how cool octopuses are.
For example, check out this news story from New Zealand, where keepers at an aquarium report that their octopus can unscrew bottles. This isn’t news – all you have to do is google the word “octopus” and “unscrew” and you get more than 11,000 hits. You can watch unscrewing in action in this video of Violet the octopus unscrewing a bottle to get a crab inside (or you can read the blog entry by her keepers). People keep re-discovering this feat, however, because people are always surprised that something with no backbone could be so clever.
Octopuses are really, really smart – undoubtedly the most intelligent invertebrates out there, and it seems more intelligent than a lot of vertebrates (and certainly more intelligent than a lot of people).
Experiments indicate that they have both long and short term memory, can navigate mazes, solve puzzles, and appear to play with their keepers and with toys sometimes. They can escape from their holding tanks, and there have been a number of reports of giant pacific octopuses climbing onto fishing boats and raiding catches. I’ve even heard zoologists claim that they are as intelligent as dogs (although you can’t really compare apples and oranges like that – but that’s another story…).
They are also masters of camouflage. Cuttlefish hold the top spot for changing colour, but octopuses can do some pretty amazing visual feats too. Check out this little dude, camouflaged with what looks like some seaweed:
If you thought that was cool, consider the mimic octopus: this species was only discovered in 1998, and wasn’t formally described until 2001, because divers simply never saw it before. It was just that good at imitating lionfish, sea snakes, brittle stars and more than a dozen other creatures. I can’t seem to find any really good footage of these awesome creatures, but this one imitating a flounder isn’t bad:
Octopuses, even big ones, can also squeeze through tiny, tiny holes – this video has some pretty cool footage of captive octopuses squeezing themselves through tubes the diameter of a quarter:
Perhaps most surprising of all is how strong octopuses are – apparently a one-pound octopus can lift at least 40 pounds of weight. I’m not sure if this is true, but they are seriously strong animals. If you don’t believe me, just consider what happened at the Seattle Aquarium many years ago. Sharks kept vanishing from their tank for weeks, and the keepers were stumped. They decided to put up a camera overnight to see what was going on – and discovered that the sharks were being devoured by a giant pacific octopus:
If that isn’t scary-looking enough, check out this poor diver being assaulted by an octopus, which manages to rip off his mask:
And last, but certainly not least, my favourite octopus video of the day:
Ouch! Nothing like a good ol’ random Japanese game show, eh?
PS: Kudos to the author of Dirtygames, who brought the shark vs. octopus video to my attention. Dirtygames is devoted to foul play in politics, media and sports. This video made it onto that blog because it pretty accurately symbolizes the match-up between the San Jose Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings (whose fans, for some reason, throw octopuses onto the ice at games). Sports is not exactly one of my areas of interest – but I always find time for Dirtygames. Good writing is good writing, no matter the topic. And who doesn’t love a good rant about the misadventures of Courtney Love? No one, I tell you.