For the Love of Octopus

Ian Sketching Octopus

Octopus

I have always considered octopuses to be a bit of a rarity on the seashore and hoped but never expected, to find one. About 4 years ago after a storm I found my first British Octopus dead on our local beach and then, about a year later, another one still just alive.  

The following year I was luckier still and saw an octopus arrive, very much alive, on the beach in a wave! It was clearly struggling in the surf and since then we have found many more. There have been reports, especially from Wales, of this happening elsewhere along with speculation that rough weather is causing it. 

Octopus numbers are up

I think octopus numbers are up, at least in shallow water, possibly due to suppressed fish populations. Ben, who volunteers, and was an intern, with Sea Trust has seen seals surfacing many times with octopus, which, all who witness it, consider to be remarkable rather than normal. Although dietary research on seals has shown that they are more inclined towards eating cephalopods than common seals are. Perhaps young naive octopuses are an important food for pups as they venture away from the shore. 

Ben photographs the washed up Octopus
Getting reference material before the rescue

I suspect that as young octopuses disperse, they reach the half grown state we tend to find them in. Then they have to compete for both territory and feeding opportunities and follow prey such as shore crabs up the submerged beach as the tide rises. Shore crabs are well known for doing this! If the pressure of inter-octopus competition and hunger lead the octopuses into the surf (even a fairly weak surf in my experience), they can be washed in and that is when we find them. We have tried throwing them straight back in but they tend to be weakened (or confused) and arrive back on the shore. That’s why we wait until low tide and this allows us to place them back gently in tidal pools or just beyond the surf.

Of course human elements may be afoot causing the octopus strandings. But we have no evidence or strong theories on what they could be. After a storm in 2018 I found over 20 dead octopuses in one night. All of them have been juvenile females unless (and I’m quite inexperienced at sexing octopuses) males do not develop a hectocotylus (a specialised arm for breeding) until maturity? 

Fun Facts – down in ink 

Not so common common octopus

– Ironically the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) is rare in British waters and the ones we find are the lesser or curled octopus, also known as the horned or northern octopus (Eledone cirrhosa). The two species are easily told apart – HERE COMES A FUN FACT –  as the common octopus has two rows of suckers on each arm, whilst the curled octopus has just one. It is important – HERE COMES AN OCTO WATCHER’S TIP! –  to check quite well up the arm towards the centre though as – the suckers are sometimes arranged in a zig-zag which could be mistaken for a double row. 

A taste for shellfish 

– Their favourite food is crustaceans, lobsters, crabs, shrimps and prawns. 

How to catch a lobster when you’re soft bodied yourself 

– The mouth of an octopus is armed with a parrot like beak. They are known to use this to bite the eyes of crustaceans delivering a toxin which quickly disables them. So avoiding too much danger from their formidable claws. Even so, the octopus is very clever at catching and overpowering a lobster without getting nipped and if an octopus arm is lost… it grows back. I’d give my right arm to be able to do that. 

Useful suckers 

– The suckers are able to taste and smell as well as feel. And are used to tear their prey apart as well as to grip onto smooth surfaces. 

The brains beneath the sea 

– Octopuses are known to be very intelligent with captive specimens recognising different human faces. Some puzzles developed for primate intelligence tests turned out to be too simple for octopuses. 

Escape strategy (just-ink-ace)

– Intelligence is the octopus’ first line of defence against danger. It thinks its way out of trouble. This may result in it changing colour to match its surroundings to confuse the attacker. Then taking refuge, sinking into the sand or just staying still but may result strategy number 2… jetting away. A powerful jet of water is projected from a special nozzle. The octopus leaves the scene at high speed by jet propulsion usually changing colour all the way. If the danger persists then option number 3 is to squirt ink, again through the nozzle. This confuses predators who can either mistake the ink cloud for the octopus (believe me, the trick has worked on me with cuttlefish) or they get lost in the cloud which, if you breath water, has a narcotic or confusing effect.

This is where seals (and other sea mammals and reptiles) have a bit of an upper hand over fishes. They don’t breath air so the ink has no effect. Their big brains give them the ability to suss out what the octopus did and outwit it. The whiskers of seals, properly called vibrissae, work in dark and murky conditions to feel around on the seabed, like fingers, for prey. It doesn’t matter if whiskers get bitten and a large toothed moth quickly follows if the vibrissae feel anything yummy. It has been shown that seals nostrils are not useless underwater, they can smell in that realm too. So, if there’s nowhere to hide, an octopus’ fate is, if you’ll excuse a pun, ‘sealed’. 

I ❤️❤️❤️octopuses

 – Octopuses have 3 hearts and their nervous system is so complex that is thought that the arms more or less think for themselves, but can also be controlled by the central brain. 

So long, suckers 

– All this ability, and octopuses rarely live more than 3 years. 

Octopus products

As you know we love an octopus here at Lifeforms art, here are some of our octopus products

Keep an eye out for more coming soon!

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