The Amazing Octopus
The octopus is an amazing creature. Considering how they have adapted and evolved so differently compared to ourselves and even other sea creatures is fascinating. There is also an element of mystery about them being from the ocean. The octopus’s mere form has become an image for both children’s shows as well as nightmares of ancient sailors. They are surprisingly intelligent creatures and have been observed ‘playing’.
There have been numerous accounts of octopus that were on display in large aquariums ‘sneaking’ out to other tanks for snacks. Some of the tactics used include such tactics as timing their movements between scheduled rounds of guards and even squirting water streams into lights to short-circuiting fixtures to move in the cover of darkness.
The plural is often referred to as octopi or octopuses but is debated. It is perhaps not surprising that the benefit to human intelligence is both labeling things and disagreement that we do not have a standard convention for the plural. Nor has the standard name for a group been established although I have heard several attempts like clutch, gang, cloud, and even salad for those small groups served before an entrée. Until there is some consensus on this I am fond of the terms mob or skulk but am certain that the wikipedia page with group names will be updated eventually.
An excellent article about demonstrating the uniqueness of individual specimens is from The Atlantic:
First, different individuals have different temperaments. Some are shy, some are bold; some are inquisitive, some aggressive. Because of this individuality, people who hang out with them, whether in the sea, at a public aquarium, or in the laboratory, tend to give them names—an honor normally reserved for mammals such as dolphins and chimpanzees. Cousteau spoke of an octopus called Octopissimus; one scientific paper I read referred to Albert, Bertram, and Charles.
Second, some octopuses will engage with you. They might reach out an arm and touch your hand. They will investigate an object you present to them, giving every impression of thinking about it as they do so. All the while, they will appear to watch you with their large, mobile eyes. Again, these are behaviors we associate with dolphins and dogs—but not with, say, fish, let alone animals such as sea urchins or clams.
Third, octopuses often behave in surprising ways. Although Albert and Bertram were prepared to pull levers to receive pieces of fish, Charles destroyed the experimental equipment—he pulled it apart with his arms—and repeatedly squirted the experimenter with water. On a recent diving trip, my partner and I came across a little octopus sitting in the sand, two of its arms holding a large half clamshell over its head like a roof. For a while, we looked at it, and it looked at us. Then it shifted. It must have been reaching down with its other arms, because suddenly, like a small animated bulldozer, it tossed up a heap of sand. It did this several times, watching us closely and giving us the sense that, though it was interested in checking us out, it was also ready, if necessary, to pull the shell down like a lid and disappear into the seafloor.
One breed in particular has an amazing color palate at its disposal, and beautiful rings. Aptly named, the Blue Ringed Octopus is a relatively small and fits in a human hand, but is highly venomous. My personal theory is that the Blue Ring became venomous as a defense mechanism due to intrusive humans that couldn’t keep their hands off of the gorgeous creature.
There are also reports of octopus recognizing individuals, which seems almost absurd considering that we are mostly clad in clothing, and worse, in a lab may wear lab coats or uniforms that match our colleagues. Below is an excerpt from the Orion Magazine noting such an identification.
Occasionally an octopus takes a dislike to someone. One of Athena’s predecessors at the aquarium, Truman, felt this way about a female volunteer. Using his funnel, the siphon near the side of the head used to jet through the sea, Truman would shoot a soaking stream of salt water at this young woman whenever he got a chance. Later, she quit her volunteer position for college. But when she returned to visit several months later, Truman, who hadn’t squirted anyone in the meanwhile, took one look at her and instantly soaked her again.