What has eight legs, three hearts, blue blood, brains in its arms, the ability to spray ink, and over 2,000 built-in suction cups? What else could it be but the amazing octopus? Most of us are familiar with the octopus. You may have even seen one in the ocean or at an aquarium. The octopus, however, is one of God’s most fascinating animals with some amazing creature-features that most people do not know. Let’s explore this remarkable animal.
First, we need to ask and answer the most popular question about these creatures. Is the plural form of the word octopus the word octopi or octopuses? How do you say it? You might be pleased to know that both words are correct, but the more popular form is octopuses.
There are about 300 species of octopuses in the world. The giant octopus normally weighs about 40 pounds and has an “arm span” of 15 feet across. The largest one ever recorded, however, weighed 600 pounds with an arm span of 30 feet. The smallest octopus in the world is known as the wolfi octopus. It is only about one inch long and weighs about 4/100ths of an ounce.
The octopus is named for its arms. The prefix octo means eight, and all octopuses have eight arms (most of the time). These arms are some of the most “intelligent” arms in the animal kingdom. First, each arm is covered with suction cups. These suction cups have chemical receptors on them that allow the octopus to “taste” virtually everything it touches. Imagine having the ability to pick up a donut with your hand and know exactly what it tastes like?
Furthermore, the arms of an octopus have a mind of their own, literally. There are balls of neural cells in the arms that act like mini-brains. These mini-brains allow each arm to behave and react quickly to things in the ocean without “asking” the main brain of the octopus what to do. Let’s just say it would be no problem for an octopus to rub its head and pat its belly at the same time.
In addition, octopuses can detach their own arms and regrow them. Why would an octopus want to do something like that? If a predator approaches an octopus to eat it, the octopus can leave one of its arms and swim away. Because the arm has a mini-brain, it continues to move and distract the predator. In fact, an octopus arm can use its suction cups, crawl by itself, and move for an hour after it has been detached from the main body of the octopus. Without the arm, the octopus is a heptopus only for a short time (try to figure that out). It has the ability to regrow a new arm that is just as good as the one it left behind.
Another awesome feature of the octopus is its amazing skin. Octopus skin is very stretchy and feels much like rubber. The special skin is designed to be able to change shape and color almost instantly, in less than one second. When the octopus feels threatened, it can blend in perfectly with its environment. It does this by matching the color of its surroundings, as well as the texture and behavior. That means its skin can take on a “sandy” feel if it is in sand or a “smooth” feel if it is on a smooth rock. It also means that the octopus can send colors repeatedly through its skin to mimic the changing colors of an environment, such as a piece of grass swaying in a place that is sunny in some parts and shady in some parts. Octopus skin is so ingeniously designed that researchers at Penn State are trying to copy it. Just last year, scientists designed a rubber skin modeled after octopus skin. This is a good example of biomimicry, the field of study where humans try to copy things in nature to improve technology.
And while we are speaking about mimicry, there is one octopus called the mimic octopus. Not only does this octopus have skin that changes color and uses camouflage, but it also has the astounding ability to mimic other creatures. It can make itself look and swim like a flatfish on the bottom of the ocean floor. It can flounce itself up into something that looks like a jellyfish and even copy the way a jellyfish swims. The mimic octopus can don stripes on its arms and move them around to copy how a venomous sea snake behaves. One of its favorite disguises is that of a lionfish, where it stiffens its legs and swims like a lionfish swims so predators think it is a venomous fish. Researchers believe it can mimic many more animals.
Octopuses have many other fascinating traits. They do not have any bones in their body. Their mouth beak is the only hard structure they have. This beak is similar to that of a bird beak, though shorter and rounder than most bird beaks. Since the beak is the only hard part of an octopus, this allows the octopus to move through any opening that its beak fits through. A giant octopus can squeeze its entire body through a pipe or hole only two inches wide. Watching a 30-pound octopus inch its way through a tiny tube is a sight to see.
Octopi also produce a special ink in their bodies. Of course, this ink is not used in a pen to write letters. It is used for protection. When an octopus is attacked, it can spray this ink into the water to make a “smoke” screen that distracts the predator and allows the octopus to get away.
All octopuses are venomous, but only one is harmful to humans. The blue-ringed octopus has one of the most deadly bites in the ocean. It is a small octopus about the size of a golf ball. It produces a toxin known as tetrodotoxin that is extremely powerful. One milligram of it can kill a person, and there is no known antidote. Fortunately, however, bites from this deadly creature are very, very rare. There are fewer than 10 confirmed cases of death from this octopus. Most octopuses use their venom (which is not harmful to humans) to help them catch their food.
When we look at the octopus with its ability to regrow its smart arms, confounding camouflage, and its ability to mimic other creatures, we should be amazed at its awesome Creator. The design of the octopus points us straight to our Almighty God.
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