Facts About Octopuses

Octopuses are considered the most intelligent of all invertebrates. Scientific studies are increasingly confirming that they are sentient creatures, Are the only marine animals apart from whales and pinnipeds, of course that are demonstrably capable of problem-solving and pattern recognition. But whatever kind of intelligence these cephalopods possess, it's extremely different from the human variety: for example, two-thirds of an octopus' neurons are located along the length of its tentacles, rather than its brain, and there's no convincing evidence that these invertebrates are capable of communicating with others of their kind.

Octopuses have three hearts. Two of the hearts work exclusively to move blood beyond the animal’s gills, while the third keeps circulation flowing for the organs. The organ heart actually stops beating when the octopus swims, explaining the species’ penchant for crawling rather than swimming, which exhausts them.

Octopuses Technically Have Arms, Not Tentacles. The names may seem interchangeable to non-experts, but where cephalopods are concerned, marine biologists are careful to distinguish between "arms" and "tentacles." If the structure has suckers along its entire length, it's an arm; if it only has suckers at the tip, it's a tentacle. By this standard, most octopuses have eight arms and no tentacles, while two other cephalopod families, cuttlefish and squids, are equipped with eight arms and two tentacles.

Octopus arms have a mind of their own. Two-thirds of an octopus’ neurons reside in its arms, not its head. As a result, the arms can problem solve how to open a shellfish while their owners are busy doing something else, like checking out a cave for more edible goodies. The arms can even react after they’ve been completely severed.

Octopuses Squirt Ink to Defend Themselves. When threatened by predators, most octopuses release a thick cloud of black ink, composed of melanin (the same pigment that gives human beings our skin and hair color). Despite what you may think, though, this cloud doesn't serve simply as a visual "smoke screen" that allows the octopus to escape unnoticed; it also interferes with predators' sense of smell (sharks, which can sniff blood from hundreds of yards away, are especially vulnerable to this type of olfactory attack).

Octopus ink doesn’t just hide the animal. The ink also physically harms enemies. It contains a compound called tyrosinase, which, in humans, helps to control the production of the natural pigment melanin. But when sprayed in a predator’s eyes, tyrosinase causes a blinding irritation. It also garbles creatures’ sense of smell and taste. The defensive concoction is so potent, in fact, that octopuses that do not escape their own ink cloud can die.

Octopuses have blue blood. To survive in the deep ocean, octopuses evolved a copper rather than iron-based blood called hemocyanin, which turns its blood blue. This copper base is more efficient at transporting oxygen then hemoglobin when water temperature is very low and not much oxygen is around. But this system also causes them to be extremely sensitive to changes in acidity. If the surrounding water’s pH dips too low, octopuses can’t circulate enough oxygen. As such, researchers worry about what will happen to the animals as a result of climate change-induced ocean acidification.

Octopuses Employ Three Different Means of Propulsion. A bit like an undersea sports car, an octopus has three gears. If it's in no particular hurry, this cephalopod will walk with its arms along the ocean bottom. If it's feeling a bit more urgent, it will actively swim by flexing its arms and body. And if it's in a real hurry (say, because it has just been spotted by a hungry shark), it will expel a jet of water from its body cavity and zoom away as fast as it possibly can, probably squirting a disorienting blob of ink at the same time.

Octopuses Are Accomplished Mimics. Octopus skin is covered by three types of specialized skin cells that can quickly change their color, reflectivity, and opacity, allowing this cephalopod to blend in with its surroundings. "Chromatophores" are responsible for the colors red, orange, yellow, brown and black; "leucophores" mimic white; and "iridophores" are reflective, and thus ideally suited to camouflage. Thanks to this arsenal of cells, some octopuses can make themselves indistinguishable from seaweed!

After mating, it’s game over for octopuses. Mating and parenthood are brief affairs for octopuses, who die shortly after. The species practices external fertilization. Multiple males either insert their spermatophores directly into a tubular funnel that the female uses to breathe, or else literally hand her the sperm, which she always accepts with one of her right arm (researchers do not know why). Afterwards, males wander off to die. As for the females, they can lay up to 400,000 eggs, which they obsessively guard and tend to. Prioritizing their motherly duties, females stop eating. But she doesn’t starve to death–rather, when the eggs hatch, the female’s body turns on her. Her body undertakes a cascade of cellular suicide, starting from the optic glands and rippling outward through her tissues and organs until she dies.

Octopuses Have Short Life Expectancies. You may want to reconsider buying an octopus as a pet: most species have a life expectancy of less than a year, for a very gruesome reason. Evolution has programmed male octopuses to die a few weeks after mating, and female octopuses stop eating while waiting for their eggs to hatch, starving to death in the course of a few weeks. Even if you neuter your octopus (this procedure may not be offered by all veterinarians in your area), it's unlikely to outlast the average hamster or gerbil.

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Posted by: Lusubilo A. Mwaijengo

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