The Octopus: Coolest Critter in the Ocean

With all the awesome critters in the water, how are you supposed to choose the most awesome? Luckily for you, I’ve done amazing amounts of research (read: done lots of diving and Google-ing), and the clear winner of the “Coolest Critter in the Ocean” contest is the octopus!

So why should this honor be bestowed on this cephalopod? Besides the fact that they’re eight-armed, puzzle solving, water shooting, underwater ninjas?

Octopuses in the wild and in captivity have shown an amazing ability to use tools to get to food, learn by observation of others, unscrew jars, and even juggle (in the case of one Common Octopus in an aquarium in Germany)! Their brain is proportionally the same size as many birds and mammals, though what is even more fascinating is that 3/5ths of their neurons lie in their tentacles. Multi-tasking those eight great arms is no huge feat for these guys. All that brain power makes them fantastic hunters and even better…

Camouflage artists! Octopuses have thousands of independently controlled pigment cells along their body that, along with changes in texture and movement, can help them imitate kelp, squid, lionfish, sea snakes and rocks. It’s also possible to determine their level of anxiety by the coloring and texture of their skin. I’ve watched Pacific Giant Octopus go from a relatively smooth brownish red to a ‘hackles up’ textured and flashing a bright red and white in a matter of seconds. Pretty amazing to see! If you’re patient and watch the Hawaiian Day Octopus long enough, they too will flash different colors and textures at you as they react to you and the reef around them. No stress needed!

Speaking of stress, how about that ink? Octopuses have ink sacs by their gills that they will shoot ink out of with or without an extra jet of water from their siphon. When they release ink with that extra jet, it will disperse the ink and cloud the water to confuse any predators so they can make a covert escape. When they release just the ink, it tends to be smaller amounts and more mucous-y (mmm!) and will hold its shape in the water. This creates kind of an ‘imitation’ octopus that many predators will mistakenly attack instead of the now fleeing ninja octopus! Pretty cool, huh? But hopefully, this is something we see only without our intervention. Stressing an octopus out, especially to the point of inking, by poking them out of their dens or handling them is no bueno!

How else could an octo possibly be cooler? What if it had venom to introduce to its prey (normally crustaceans) after using its beak and rasp like tongue to pry and drill through the shell? Well, it does! Only the famed Blue Ringed Octopus has venom that has been found to be toxic to humans, but recent studies have shown that all varieties of octopus use venom to paralyze and kill their prey. Not to be outdone, the Blanket Octopus rips off the tentacles of the amazingly toxic Portuguese Man-of-War and decorates itself with them for defensive purposes. Luckily, these guys are offshore dwellers, so little chance of running into them (literally) on your next dive.

Now we have an animal that is highly intelligent, can blend into its surrounding instantaneously, imitate poisonous critters, release a cloak of temporary invisibility, and arm itself with the deadly tentacles of other animals. How much more awesome they get? Go ahead, tell me!!

Aloha, Kelly