Aliens in the Ocean?!
Cephalopods. They’re geniuses, they change shape and colour, they ink, and they have 10 thousand more genes than humans. They are cuttlefish, squids and octo… Wait a second. What is the plural of octopus?
With so much controversy around this, it’s hard to know. But rest assured, I have figured it out!
If the word was Latin, it would be octopi, but the word is Greek which means the plural is octopedes.
When a foreign word enters the English language it is treated as an English word.
So… (drum roll please)…the plural is octopuses!
These three animals make up part of the cephalopod family, and similarly to the great Mary Poppins, they’re “practically perfect in every way”.
Firstly, octopuses especially are renowned for their intelligence and ability to manoeuvre their way into and out of aquariums, jars, and mazes. Some species, like the blanket octopuses have figured out they are immune to the venom of some organisms, so they hunt them, take their venomous tentacles and wield them as weapons. That is some next level brains, and brutality!
Using shells as a shield. Classic octopus. Source: Pixabay
As I mentioned before, some cephalopods have roughly 10,000 more genes than a human, 33,000 is the closest estimate. This alone sets it apart from any other invertebrate in the world. Also, 66% of their neurons are located in their arms rather than a centralized place like a brain. This is why their tentacles still respond to touch after they’re severed; their body IS their brain! But no matter, they can re-grow any limbs lost in battle.
Cephalopods also move using large sacs in their head that they fill with water and shoot out at extreme speeds. This push of water propels them forward while they use their fins and tentacles to navigate. This special method makes them the fastest marine invertebrates and let’s them out-accelerate most fish.
The only hard part of an octopus is their beak, so if their beak can fit through a hole, so can the rest of their body.
Cuttlefish, octopuses and squids also have the ability to change their colour, shape and texture to match their surroundings.
Male cuttlefish have been seen taking turns flashing colours throughout their bodies to solve disputes. Talk about civil!
A coasting cuttlefish Source: Flickr
The same species, post-transformation. Source: Flickr
How on earth do they do it?
They have ink sacs in their skin called chromatophores. Scientists believe they change colour the same way a balloon filled with coloured water changes appearance when squeezed. Cephalopods relax and tense their chromatophores to expose and hide the ink pigment in their skin.
A genius of the sea. Source: Pixabay
It’s pretty well known that octopuses, squids and cuttlefish release ink when they need to make a quick getaway. But there’s SO much more to the story.
Firstly, inks vary in colour depending on who is shooting it. If the ink is black, it belongs to an octopus. If it’s blue-black? That’s squid ink! If it has a brown tinge, there’s been a cuttlefish close by.
Cephalopod ink is a combination of melanin, which gives it the dark colour, and mucus. But wait! There’s more. Cephalopods change the balance of melanin and mucus to suit their needs. The ink also has a mix of chemicals such as dopamine, taurine, and levodopa, which confuse and dull the senses of predators, masking the cephalopod’s scent and giving it time to escape.
Cephalopods also use their ink to trick their predators. By adding more mucus into their ink, they can release plumes of ink that hold their shape for longer to create ‘false bodies’. They shoot out these body doubles, change colour, and run for it!
Alien or not, cephalopods truly are an example of how beautiful, smart and complex life in the ocean can be.