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Cephalopod Awareness Days: Oohing over Octopuses

October 8, 2012
Photo of Octopus burryi moving with stealth amidst a field of Pennincilus algae. ©Roger Hanlon used with written permission.

Octopus burryi moving with stealth amidst a field of Pennincilus algae. Photo: ©Roger T.Hanlon used with written permission.

Greetings Blogophiles! It’s finally here, October 8th, the first day of International Cephalopod Awareness Days (ICAD)! Because it is the 8th and octopuses have eight arms, today is Octopus Day!! Be aware of them. I really like octopuses, but as a paleontologist, I almost never get to see them. To quote Dirk Fuchs of the Freie Universität of Berlin “finding an octopus fossil is about as unlikely as finding a fossil sneeze.” My only research experience with octopuses is examining the chemical composition of their stylets (vestigial shells) and those are from extant octopuses.

Photo of octopus stylets. Photo by Trish Weaver

Octopus stylets. Photo by Trish Weaver

Still you’ve got to love octopuses, they have many skills. They can predict the winner of the world cup, they can open jars for you and they are notorious criminals (stealing fish and crabs from other aquarium tanks). Even though they are color blind, octopuses can change their skin color and texture or their shape to match their environment. When they are threatened, octopuses can make themselves very large (deimatic display), or they can make themselves very small to squeeze through tight crevasses.

Photo of The gloomy octopus, “Octopus tetricus,” in a dark mottled camouflage pattern. Photo: ©Roger Hanlon used with written permission.

The gloomy octopus, “Octopus tetricus,” in a dark mottled camouflage pattern. Photo: ©Roger T. Hanlon used with written permission.

Here are some fast facts:

  • Octopuses have three hearts, one systemic that pumps oxygen to the body and two branchial which pump oxygen through the gills.
  •  Unlike, humans, octopuses and other cephalopods have blue blood. This is because their blood binds oxygen using a blue, copper containing protein called hemocyanin, whereas human blood is red because the oxygen-binding protein, hemoglobin, contains iron.
  • Octopuses are categorized into main taxonomic groups: Cirrata, octopuses that have fins, like the Dumbo octopus, and the more common Incirrata, octopus without fins, like the ones you see at most aquariums.
  • Octopuses are very intelligent and are capable of learning, but they have very short life spans, anywhere from six months to about five years, depending on species and environmental stability.
  • After mating, all octopuses go through senescence then die. To quote Roland Anderson of the Seattle Aquarium, “there is no such thing as safe sex for octopuses.”  Senescence is the time in an octopus’ life cycle where it goes, blind, loses motor function and stops being able to learn new things. Some of these symptoms are similar to what humans in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease go through.
Photo of Moving rock behavior by a small Octopus vulgaris. Photo: ©Roger Hanlon used with written permission.

Moving rock behavior by a small Octopus vulgaris. Photo: ©Roger T. Hanlon used with written permission.

So let’s all spend today thinking about what marvelous creatures octopuses are and please do yourselves a favor and follow the links to watch some great octopus videos or visit Roger Hanlon’s Marine Biology Lab at Woods Hole website and scroll through their media. It will make your Monday so much better. Tune in tomorrow for day two of Cephalopod Awareness Days.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2012 10:53 am

    Reblogged this on NC Museum of Natural Sciences Blogs and commented:

    by Trish Weaver

  2. October 8, 2012 2:13 pm

    Thank you so much for blogging during ICAD! My favorite cephalopod is the cuttlefish, so I’m looking forward to Wednesday’s post.

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