To say I spent most of my life not thinking about octopuses would be correct. When I met my husband, I quickly realized he liked his Kraken rum, but I never quite realized he liked the actual octopus itself. That is until a few years ago, while we on vacation in Mexico when he had one tattooed onto his calf. Now he has octopus clothing, glasses, mugs, and even a flask.
What is an octopus?
An octopus is an invertebrate from the mollusk family. They have a soft-body and eight arms – not tentacles (I learn something everyday!). With 300 or so species recognized, octopuses are members of the Cephalopoda class with squids, cuttlefish, and nautiloids.
Octopuses have complex nervous systems and excellent sight. They also stand out from other invertebrates with their intelligence and diverse behaviours.
Octopuses live throughout the world. Here on the B.C. coast, we have the giant Pacific octopus. These guys grow bigger and live longer than any other octopus species. According to National Geographic, the average giant Pacific octopus is 16 feet and 110 lbs.
Capturing our imagination for centuries
So what is it about these creatures that capture the imagination? They first appeared in mythology, like Norway’s Kraken, as sea monsters. They have also lived in pop culture for years, usually as the villain.
Jules Verne’s 1870 novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea may be the most famous octopus representation. In both the book and multiple film adaptations, a group of humans travels in a submarine called Nautilus where they face a giant cephalopod monster.
There is also Ian Fleming’s Octopussy and movies like It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), Octopus (2000), Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus (2009), and Arrival (2016).
Octopuses also appear in family-friendly venues (although often as the villain):
- Finding Nemo (Pearl, flapjack octopus)
- Finding Dory (Hank, East Pacific red octopus)
- Toy Story 3 (Stretch, glittery purple rubber toy octopus and one of Lotso’s henchmen
- Shark Tale (Luca, who works for Don Lino as his not-so-smart consigliere)
- Penguins of Madagascar (Dave, known by his alias Dr. Octavius Brine, is the main antagonist)
- And of course, Squidward Tentacles from the Nickelodeon series SpongeBob SquarePants.
Octopuses – why are they misunderstood?
Perhaps because they are so different or because of their size, octopuses seem quite misunderstood, especially when it comes to Hollywood. The giant Pacific octopus is highly intelligent with some having learned to open jars, mimic other octopuses, and solve mazes in lab tests. [National Geographic link]
They are carnivores and primarily feast on shrimp, clams, lobsters, and fish. This doesn’t make them much different from other ocean residents. On the other hand, they will attack and eat sharks (!) and birds.
Among their unique characteristics is that they use special pigment cells in their skin to change colors and textures, and can blend in with even the most intricately patterned corals, plants, and rocks. Okay, that is kind of cool and creepy at the same time!!
Last year, coming through Porlier Pass at low slack, something darted out of the water and caught my attention. It was reddish-orange and looked like one long arm reaching out of the water alongside a marker buoy. Before I could blink, it was gone. Was it my imagination or, could it have been an octopus?
The more I learn about these mysterious and oh so cool creatures, the more I think it was. Guess there are two of us fascinated by octopuses now!
Stay save, happy cruising and happy National Octopus Day!