What has one soft body, two eyes, three hearts, eight arms (I could use some of those), nine brains, blue blood, is strong, curious, creative, able to change bodily color and texture, solve problems and slip in and out of small spaces?
Our neighbor, the multi-talented California two-spot octopus, Octopus bimaculoides, nestled in the waters off La Jolla Shores beach and/or the low tide pools there and at Swami’s beach, Encinitas and Point Loma. Our local octopuses (octo is for eight, the rest for footed) run some 7-23 inches in size and live an average of two years, dying after breeding and laying the next generation’s eggs. The species, at home in all the world’s waters, measures anywhere from one inch to more than 16 feet.
These nocturnal animals are shy and sly. Their hangouts are caves and crevices. When hunting or threatened out in the open ocean they know how to hide in plain sight. Octopuses can self camouflage to blend into the background through crypsis, the aforementioned ability to quickly switch their tint and texture to mimic a rock, a sea plant, a sand mound and such. Octopus architects have been recorded building shelters from gathered shells, tearing them down and saving the shells for use another time. To further thwart a pesky predator they can squirt ink—obscuring vision— and retreat, jetting off backwards. They see well and have all those arms, though two are said to act as legs (yes, they can “walk”). Each arm has its own brain and uses its suckers—suction cups—to touch and taste and can decide what action to take depending on what it senses—independently from the other seven. Oh, and an octopus can also regrow an arm if one should be lost for whatever reason.
No one has spoken with one, but many researchers have studied their brain power, curiosity, dexterity, strength and found them to be very smart, witty, cunning, solving puzzles, navigating mazes, using tools and famously escaping through small openings—not part of the experiment. The octopus, that can be out of water safely for a very few minutes, just disappears down a drain, out the door into nearby water. Also, at one research facility with an octopus in residence the fish in a tank in the same room kept vanishing. The staff was questioned. All denied involvement. A camera was set up to solve the missing fish mystery. The culprit: the octopus. Living in close proximity, it had spotted the nearby tank filled with fish. It developed a habit of opening its own enclosure seal, making its way to the tank, reaching in and taking a fish, returning back to its space, closing the seal and enjoying a snack.
FYI: The species has been dubbed the closest thing we have to an alien on earth.