March 5, 2010

Rheanna Sand

Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand

Growing up in a landlocked prairie city, large undersea creatures have always made me…uncomfortable. Especially the octopus, which, as a child, I thought of as a big, squishy spider that would look you in the eye before swallowing you whole. Now, more and more scientific evidence is bringing their cunning, savvy, and intelligent nature to light.

The most recent example is a small species of octopus in the Caribbean that disguises itself as a flounder when swimming. Flounders are bony and wouldn't make as good a meal as a nice, soft octopus, so the cephalopod uses elegant mimicry to avoid being eaten. The octopus can imitate not just the colour and body form of the flounder, but also its skin texture and swimming patterns.

The most jaw-dropping example of octopus camoflage is in this video, which shows just how well these animals can modify the colour and texture of their skin to match their surroundings.

Octopuses have also been seen walking on two legs across the sea floor, so they can maintain their camoflage while escaping. They have also been seen carrying around empty coconut shells to use later as protective coverings - which was the first reported tool use among invertebrates.

There is also video footage of one escaping a plexiglass box through a one-inch diameter hole, video of one taking down a shark, and scientific research that suggests all octopuses are venomous.

Well, it's a relief to see my fears were completely unfounded.



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