Journal Task #6- Beware the Blue Rings!

I chose to write about the blue ringed octopus as I had heard of the book called “The soul of an Octopus”, written by Sy Montgomery, about her observations and relationship with an octopus called Athena. In this book, she describes the intellect, nature and kindred spirit of this aquatic creature, and shares her deep fascination of these animals with everyone. Due to this book being on my reading list, I wanted to learn more about octopuses, in particular, the magnificent but mysterious blue ringed octopus.

These creatures get their name after their iridescent, glowing circles that are activated when they are disturbed and about to attack. They have three hearts: one systematic heart, and two branchial hearts, branchial meaning “relating to gills”. The branchial hearts are responsible for pumping blood through the gills, and the systematic heart is responsible for pumping blood through the rest of the body. Members of the Octopoda order all have eight limbs, as does the blue ringed octopus.

These eight limbs take the form of tentacles which are covered in suckers. The suckers help these creatures climb up coral reefs and rocks. Their long limbs act as a sort of spider web to capture prey, which they do by surrounding and pulling in their prey. These animals do not have a skeleton either inside or outside their bodies, with their beaks being one of the only hard parts in their bodies. This means that they can squeeze into the tiniest of places, but makes them vulnerable in the way that they are easy prey for predators. Luckily, the blue ringed octopus has some pretty clever way of counteracting this.

Do you think you are smarter than an octopus? If you answered yes, you’d better think again. Studies have shown that octopuses do have some kind of intelligence and are generally curious about their environment. This was indicated when Jennifer Mather, a psychologist who has been studying octopuses for 35 years, placed a set of octopuses in a tank with just a pill bottle.

The octopus utilised its ability to jet water by squirting at the bottle so it would fly over the water engine in the tank and return back to the octopus. This was done repetitively, and can be compared to how we human would bounce a ball. It has also been found that octopuses have personalities. They will typically fit into three categories: activity, reactivity, and avoidance. Octopuses were tested for these personalities through some common scenarios they might encounter such as eating a crab, being probed, and the lid to their tank being opened.

On the third tentacle on the right side of the male, they have a spoon ended limb. This is used to insert into the oviduct or the funnel of the female, where little sacks of sperm are deposited, which are called spermatophores. The male octopus grips the mantle of the female, otherwise known as the head, and moves his tentacle in and out of her oviduct until the female is full of fertilised eggs.

The whole mating process can last anywhere between several minutes to several hours. Once the male and female octopuses have mated, the male soon dies. The female will lay 50-100 eggs, and she will tend to them through their gestation period of 1-2 months. She is so dedicated to her babies that she will not eat. As a result of this, once they give birth and see their little babies, the mother dies of lack of strength.

The blue ringed octopus creates a toxin called tetrodotoxin which they use for self defence, and is produced in the salivary glands by bacteria. When this toxin is released, it can paralyse its victims by stopping nerves from transmitting messages around the body. Paralysis only affects the voluntary muscles of the victim, which means they remain conscious. The bite of a blue ringed octopus has a high chance of being fatal, but can best avoid dying by steering clear of this creature as they will only attack when probed or disturbed.

Their blue rings will light up as a warning, and this is when you will know you’re in deep trouble. They produce a second type of toxin which is only used when catching prey. The fastest means of transportation for the blur ringed octopus is by propelling through the water, which is very useful when evading predators. The octopus will suck in water into the cavity formed between their tentacles and handles. It will then push this water outwards using the strength of the mantle, which allows them to swim away fast!

The blue ringed octopus also has the ability to camouflage with its surroundings in order to hide from predators. Within the skin of this creature are little sacs filled with pigment, called Chromatophores. This allows it to change colours rapidly and to sometimes mimic the patterns of its surroundings. This octopus also holds an ink sac in a gland in the liver. When shot out of their funnel, a cloud of almost opaque, dark ink can be used to distract a predator, allowing for the blue ringed octopus to make a quick getaway.

The blue ringed octopus is an amazing sea creature- just remember to not get too close!

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