More than meets the octopus

Ever since I laid my 7-year-old eyes on an artist’s interpretation of a giant squid and sperm whale locked in mortal combat, I’ve been fascinated by cephalopods (i.e., the branch of predatory mollusks that includes squids, octopuses, cuttlefish and the nautilus).

Growing up, my favorite James Bond film was Octopussy (1983), mostly because it was fun to say (of course, the title’s overt ambiguity was utterly lost on my prepubescent brain);

that yo-yo saw was frickin’ awesome (do not blink from seconds :31-:33, and you’ll see just what I mean);

and the movie’s eponymous Southern Blue-Ringed Octopus—one of the ocean’s deadliest creatures, despite fitting in the palm of your hand—was right in my cephalopod-loving purview.

Turns out, there’s a whole lot more to cephalopods than clashing titans and Roger Moore taking on eight vaginas at once.

Like intelligence. Of all invertebrates (which make up 97% of all species on Earth), cephalopods are easily the most intelligent—although their brains and highly complex nervous systems don’t work in nearly the same manner as vertebrates.

Though not yet fully understood by nature’s third-most intelligent vertebrate, humans, the elusive cephalopod shows signs of puzzle- and problem-solving; playing (a surefire sign of intelligence); classical conditioning; short- and long-term memory; tool use and manipulation (the only invertebrate to exhibit such behavior); learning from their mistakes; and perhaps even observational learning. Please excuse the superfluous Shining-esque music:

IN FACT, several aquaria (aquarium’s pedantic plural form) have documented instances where octopuses have deliberately short-circuited bright lights; and have even left their own tanks at night to enter a nearby tank, eat some fish or shellfish, then return back to their own tanks before morning—much to the puzzlement of aquarium staff the following day.

“But how?!” you shriek at your monitor. Because see, octopuses can do crazy shit like this:

In 1986, the British government amended the laws that protect animals in experiments, adding the octopus to the privileged circle of animals that may not be operated on without anesthesia. It’s the only invertebrate to make that hallowed list. Respect.

Which segues quite swimmingly into our next chapter:  the physically gifted cephalopod.

Let’s collectively drop our jaws at the octopus’s survival skills, which are pretty much unparalleled in the animal kingdom.

Like this galactically cool camouflagery.

And this awe-inspiring display of mimicry.

Not to mention, cephalopods have some of the most developed eyes of any creatures, on land or sea. Cephalopods’ camera-like eyes are often compared with human eyes in terms of complexity, and are seen as a shining example of convergent evolution—despite our two species being so utterly divergent. Both human and cephalopod eyes have transparent corneas, regulate light with iris diaphragms and focus lenses with a ring of muscle.

(besides being exceptionally complex, the eye of the giant squid [genus: Architeuthis] is the largest of any living creature [except perhaps the colossal squid, obviously], measuring up to 1 foot in diameter)

Hard to believe an animal more closely related to slugs than humans (sluggish humans inclusive) could have such sophisticated baby blues. Whilst not seeing in color, cephalopods perceive polarized light like nobody’s business, allowing them to see minute contrast in the water column.

(cuttlefish is always watching your sorry ass)

Oh, and you know that whole octopi as plural form of octopus? How about bullshit, propagated by the same verbicidal thugs what brung you “irregardless” and “deers.” Octopus derives from Ancient Greek, not that second declension Latin noun crap. C’mon, you’re smarter than that.

~ by zactopia on August 18, 2011.

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