Ocean Currents » octopus http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 21 Apr 2017 20:52:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 The Blue-Ringed Octopus: Small but Deadly http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/13/the-blue-ringed-octopus-small-but-deadly/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/13/the-blue-ringed-octopus-small-but-deadly/#comments Mon, 13 Mar 2017 20:21:34 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13905

At first glance, the blue-ringed octopus looks perfectly innocuous. Its psychedelic coloring and pint-sized packaging make it seem more adorable than alarming. But don’t let its cuddly exterior fool you: this tiny octopus can kill you. And quickly.

Native to the Pacific Ocean, the blue-ringed octopus can be found in the soft, sandy bottom of shallow tide pools and coral reefs. When not seeking food or a mate, blue-ringed octopuses often hide in crevices, shells or marine debris. If you catch them outside of their cozy hiding spots, it’s easy to see how the animal gets its name: when threatened, bright blue rings appear all over its body as a warning signal to potential predators.

Although all octopuses (as well as cuttlefish and some squid) are venomous, the blue-ringed octopus is in a league of its own. Its venom is 1,000 times more powerful than cyanide, and this golf-ball sized powerhouse packs enough venom to kill 26 humans within minutes. It’s no surprise that it’s recognized as one of the most dangerous animals in the ocean.

Blue-ringed octopuses produce a potent neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, a potentially-deadly substance also found in pufferfish. The venom is produced by symbiotic bacteria in the animal’s salivary glands and is more toxic than that of any land mammals. It’s primarily used when hunting: the octopus captures crabs, shrimp and small fish by pecking through its prey’s exoskeleton with its beak and inserting the venom. Then it will use its beak to pick off meat while its prey remains helplessly paralyzed. In the end, only the tough outer shell of its prey remains.

So, what happens if you’re bitten by a blue-ringed octopus? First, the venom blocks nerve signals throughout the body, causing muscle numbness. Other symptoms include nausea, vision loss or blindness, loss of senses and loss of motor skills. Ultimately, it will cause muscle paralysis—including the muscles needed for humans to breathe, leading to respiratory arrest. There is no known antidote, but victims can be saved if artificial respiration is started immediately.

If you ever encounter this blue and yellow beauty, back away in a hurry—its bite is usually painless, so you might not know you’ve been bitten until it’s too late. Fortunately, the blue-ringed octopus isn’t aggressive; it’s only likely to bite humans if cornered or handled. In fact, there have been no known deaths from its bite since the 1960s. As long as you keep your hands to yourself, you should be fine.



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5 Reasons the Octopus is the Coolest Animal in the Sea http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/07/5-reasons-the-octopus-is-the-coolest-animal-in-the-sea/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/07/5-reasons-the-octopus-is-the-coolest-animal-in-the-sea/#comments Fri, 07 Oct 2016 18:30:40 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13119

There are few ocean creatures more mysterious than the octopus. For centuries, its bizarre appearance and unusual behavior have captivated scientists and storytellers alike, making it one of the most loved invertebrates in the sea. In honor of World Octopus Day, we’re sharing why octopuses are the absolute coolest animals out there.

1. The octopus is a master of disguise.

When it comes to trickery, no one can beat the octopus. Octopuses have color-changing cells, or chromatophores, covering their skin. By expanding or contracting the cells, octopuses can quickly change color and ultimately blend into their environment. The mimic octopus takes the deception a step further by changing the way it moves its arms to impersonate a variety of other marine species. It can “mimic” 15 different species (that we know of), including lionfish, sole flatfish and sea snakes. By imitating these toxic animals, mimic octopuses can protect themselves from predators while vulnerable in the open ocean.

2. The octopus knows how to have a good time.

Think mammals are the only animals who play? Think again. A 2006 study observed wild-caught octopuses “playing” with Legos by pulling them through the water or tossing them in between their arms. Whereas less intelligent animals often ignore objects after determining they’re neither a threat nor food, octopuses exhibited curiosity, the ability to learn and a desire to play with foreign objects—three traits that have not been traditionally associated with invertebrates. Play behavior is a sign of higher intelligence, and one that has only otherwise been recorded in vertebrates.

Can we blame them, though? Octopuses deserve a little fun too.

3. The octopus is not to be messed with.

The octopus may not have threatening spines, teeth or claws, but don’t let their cuddly exterior fool you. All octopuses (as well as cuttlefish and some squid) are venomous. But the blue-ringed octopus is in a league of its own: This golf-ball sized powerhouse packs enough venom to kill 26 humans within minutes. Found in the Pacific Ocean, the blue-ringed octopus’ venom contains neurotoxins that cause muscle numbness and weakness, followed by troubled breathing and possible death. If you ever encounter this blue and yellow beauty, back away in a hurry—its bite is usually painless, so you might not know you’ve been bitten until it’s too late.

4. The octopus is legendary.

Octopuses have captured man’s imagination for centuries. Octopuses appear in legends and as deities in every corner of the world, including as the Tahitian sea demon Rogo-tumu and the color-changing Lusca of the Bahamas. They frequently appear in pop culture as well: from the Kraken of Pirates of the Caribbean to Ursula of The Little Mermaid, eight-legged sea beasts have long been used as the quintessential ocean villain.

5. The octopus is a smart cookie.

When we think of animal intelligence, it’s vertebrates like dolphins and chimps that get most of the credit. But make no mistake—the octopus holds its own in a battle of wits. Cephalopods have large, condensed brains that have sections entirely dedicated to learning, a trait that is unique among other invertebrates. Octopuses’ brilliant problem-solving abilities have been documented time and time again; for example, the infamous Inky the Octopus who slipped through a gap in its tank in a New Zealand aquarium and slid down a 164-foot-long drainpipe into Hawke’s Bay. There’s also evidence octopuses have personalities, and react differently based on how shy, active or emotional they are.

We know there’s so much more to love about the octopus (it was hard to narrow this list down to only five reasons). Celebrate World Octopus Day on October 8th by sharing your favorite octopus fact or photo on Twitter and tag @OurOcean!

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Get to Know the Animals of Finding Dory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/17/get-to-know-the-animals-of-finding-dory/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/17/get-to-know-the-animals-of-finding-dory/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2016 13:00:59 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12275

It’s been over a decade since we first met Nemo, Pixar’s adventurous young clownfish on a mission to get home to his dad. Along the epic journey, we were introduced to vegetarian sharks, chatty seagulls, laid-back turtles and more.

Now, Pixar’s back at it with their new movie Finding Dory, which follows the lovable blue tang as she searches the ocean for family. Just as Finding Nemo introduced us to a wide variety of memorable sea creatures, the sequel promises an equally engaging cast of characters.

It’s not often that we get to see ocean animals on the big screen, so we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate. Here are some fun facts about the species featured in the movie (in theaters now!)


Octopuses are some of the most curious and mysterious creatures in the sea. Their intelligence is off the charts: they have been observed using tools like coconuts and rocks, are master escape artists and even exhibit play behavior! They have even been shown to recognize individual faces and develop unique personalities and quirks. To camouflage themselves, octopuses have color-changing cells, or chromatophores, just below their skin’s surface. They can quickly change color by expanding or contracting the cells, ultimately blending into their environment and allowing them to sneak up on prey or hide from predators.

Beluga whales

Known for their distinctive white color, belugas live in the chilly waters of the Arctic and subarctic. They’re incredibly well adapted to the Arctic environment—a five-inch-thick layer of blubber and dorsal ridge help them navigate through the harsh icy waters as they search for fish and invertebrates to eat. Unlike other whale species, the bones in their necks aren’t fused together so they can move their heads up, down and side to side. Belugas can even make different facial expressions, just like humans! They’re also chatty—they earned the nickname “canaries of the sea” because they make a wide variety of sounds including whistles, squeals, moos and chirps.

Regal tang

The Regal tang gets its name because its colors make it look, well, quite regal. Sometimes nicknamed blue tangs, regal tangs are recognizable by their bright yellow tailfins and royal blue bodies (Fun fact: they can change their hue from light blue to deep purple!). In the wild, you can find them in areas with stronger current, where they pluck zooplankton out of the water column as they drift by. They also have quite an interesting breeding behavior: royal tangs will form “fish harems,” where one male and several females will gather to mate. Although Dory may not seem threatening, you wouldn’t want to cross regal tangs in real life—they possess sharp spines near their tails that can be used for self-defense.

False clown anemonefish

Surprise! Nemo and his dad Marlin aren’t actually clownfish. They’re what’s known as false clownfish or false anemonefish, which are very similar to true clownfish, but have slight physical differences in body shape and habitat preference. As in the movie, they are immune to the sting of sea anemones, and have developed a symbiotic relationship with them. If the fish have to leave for an extended period of time, the false anemonefish has to go through an elaborate reintroduction to the anemone’s stinging cells by tentatively touching its fins to the anemone over the course of a few hours. It’s no wonder why you’ll rarely find them more than one foot away from the safety of their anemone home!

Whale sharks 

Whale sharks are hard to miss—they’re the biggest fish in the world and can grow up to 40 feet long and weigh 20,000 – 40,000 pounds. Despite their name, whale sharks aren’t actually whales, and the whale shark’s closest relatives are in the order Orectolobiforme; including species such as the zebra shark, bamboo shark, and wobbegongs. Generally found traveling alone, whale sharks sometimes congregate to feed in areas with large concentrations of plankton (their favorite food!). Even in groups, you could tell them apart—their characteristic white and gray spots are unique to each animal, similar to a human fingerprint.

With all your new fun facts, you’ll be totally prepared for the next Finding Dory showing. Note: Whispering fish facts at your friends during the actual movie isn’t advised (unless your friends are fish nerds, too!)


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Why the Mimic Octopus is the Ultimate Master of Disguise http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/01/why-the-mimic-octopus-is-the-ultimate-master-of-disguise/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/01/why-the-mimic-octopus-is-the-ultimate-master-of-disguise/#comments Fri, 01 Apr 2016 13:00:07 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11775

The animal kingdom is packed with creatures that use strange and unusual methods to trick predators. From finding expert camouflage to playing dead, deceit is a common way to avoid becoming someone’s snack.

But when it comes to trickery, there is one animal that rises above the rest: the mimic octopus.

In honor of April Fools’ Day, we’re sharing the story of a cephalopod that has taken the field of deception to a whole new level. So sit back and learn from the best (and don’t forget to take notes!)

First discovered in Indonesia in 1998, the mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) lives in the shallow waters in the Indo-Pacific. They are relatively small, only about two feet in length, and are pale brown in color with a number of brown and white stripes. Like many other cephalopods, the mimic octopus has color-changing cells, or chromatophores, covering its skin. This allows the animal to quickly change color by expanding or contracting the cells, and ultimately blend into its environment.

But the mimic octopus takes the deception a step further. In addition to just changing its color and texture, the animal will change the way it moves its arms to impersonate a variety of other marine species. It can “mimic” 15 different species (that we know of)!

Here are some of the more notable species the mimic octopus imitates:

Lionfish: By spreading out its arms and propelling itself through the water column, the mimic octopus resembles the brown and white striped lionfish. Since lionfish are known for their very sharp and highly venomous spines, this deters other animals from attempting to prey on the octopus.

Sole (flatfish): The mimic octopus can hurriedly glide over the ocean floor by pulling its arms flush against its’ body and flattening out to resemble a sole. This particular flatfish is poisonous, so imitating the fish’s leaf-life shape helps keep predators at bay.

Sea snake: If threatened, the mimic octopus will pull six of its arms into its burrow, leaving two arms resting on the sandy bottom. The undulating, black and white banded arms look remarkably like an extremely venomous sea snake, encouraging would-be predators to scatter.

Divers have reportedly seen mimic octopuses imitating even more wild species, such as anemones, jellyfish, feather stars, giant crabs, mantis shrimp, seahorses and more. Scientists suggest that the mimic octopus may choose which animal to impersonate based on which predator is hovering nearby. For example, when bullied by territorial damselfish, an octopus was seen “transforming” into a sea snake, a well-known predator of damselfish.

The ability to impersonate other dangerous animals is particularly helpful in the shallow, sandy environment that the mimic octopus calls home. Where other octopuses generally like habitat with complex structure like reefs to hide in, the river mouths and estuaries the mimic octopus frequents generally lack places to squirrel away in. By imitating toxic animals like the sea snake, lionfish and sole, mimic octopuses can protect themselves from predators while vulnerable in the open ocean.

The mind-blowing creativity of the mimic octopus makes it stand out amongst the deceptive creatures of the animal kingdom. And today, of all days, is a time to channel your inner mimic octopus and embrace all methods of trickery.

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7 Ocean Creatures to Get You in the Halloween Spirit http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/28/7-ocean-creatures-to-get-you-in-the-halloween-spirit/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/10/28/7-ocean-creatures-to-get-you-in-the-halloween-spirit/#comments Wed, 28 Oct 2015 13:30:23 +0000 Katie Green http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10946  

Halloween is the time of year to celebrate all of the interesting, weird and creepy beings from around the world. The ocean is particularly abundant in unique-looking organisms. Ranging from the deep sea to shallow waters, the ocean is full of creepy creatures with some amazing skills – and here at Ocean Conservancy, we love them all. That’s why, this Halloween, we gathered some of our favorite eerie ocean animals to celebrate this spook-tacular holiday.


This frogfish looks a lot like a zombie from The Walking Dead. They may look slightly scary but are accomplished walkers. Frogfish are well known for their use of pelvic and pectoral fins to launch themselves across the ocean floor.

Gulper Eel

This terrifying creature has an overbite even an orca-dontist couldn’t fix! Though its large mouth looks a little off-putting, the enlarged jaw allows the gulper eel to consume a wide-variety of prey ranging in size – from a small snack to a large feast.


Octopuses are notoriously good at hide-and-go-seek. Their camouflage allows them to change color and texture to hide from any impending danger. You may never know if an octopus is lurking in the depths.

Giant Japanese Spider Crab

It’s essentially a giant spider that lives in the ocean, who wouldn’t be afraid?! But all jokes aside, the giant Japanese spider crab is awesome. With a leg span able to reach 15 feet, these crabs are some of the world’s largest crustaceans.

Divided Flatworm

This invertebrate makes our list due to its coloring. Divided flatworms can grow over 2 inches in length! They may be small but the award for greatest Halloween spirit goes to this divided flatworm.


If you are afraid of sharp objects, stay away from the sawfish and its protruding weaponry.  Their saw helps them detect electric pulses produced by their prey. These scary looking rays mainly eat fish and crustaceans – watch out giant Japanese spider crab!

Sarcastic Fringehead Blenny

The bulbous, outward-facing eyes of the sarcastic fringehead blenny make it look like a something out of a scary movie. These fascinating-looking fish are known to participate in some very interesting behavior when defending neighboring territories – I wouldn’t trick-or-treat near their house.

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Happy World Octopus Day! http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/08/happy-world-octopus-day/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/08/happy-world-octopus-day/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 13:00:56 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9319

Photo: Jonas Gozjak

It’s impossible not to love octopuses. These cephalopods seem to have every evolutionary advantage you could imagine. Here are six of our favorites:

  1. The first and most obvious (it’s even in their name) is that octopuses have eight arms. Their arms are for much more than just reaching a difficult itch. If threatened, an octopus can sever one of its own arms to get away. The lost limb will grow back completely with all of its function. Because of its nine brains and more than half of its neurons being in its arms, individual arms can solve problems—like opening a jar—independently from the rest of the body. Octopuses also taste things by feeling them with their arms and skin.
  2. The beak is the only hard part of an octopus’ body, making it an extremely flexible animal. They can fit through anything as long as their beak can. Octopuses use their beaks to crack into their favorite shellfish meals. They can also produce a neurotoxin that paralyzes their prey and enzymes that help break down their food. The only octopus in the world with venom dangerous to humans is the blue-ringed octopus found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
  3. Playing hide and seek with an octopus would probably be a nightmare. They can change the color and texture of their skin to match their surroundings. This handy camouflage keeps them safe from predators. The mimic octopus seems to have mastered this ability. It can manipulate its color and shape to look like an entirely different sea creature. It will even choose what to mimic depending on the danger or predator.
  4. Octopuses may not have mastered calligraphy, but they certainly know how to use their ink. Being able to spray ink as a smokescreen is another great way to avoid being eaten. Their ink isn’t just a ninja smoke bomb either. It can irritate the eyes of the predator or even infringe its sense of smell and taste, making it harder for them to come after the octopus.
  5. Like all of their other skills, an octopus’ maternal instinct is quite amazing. Take the giant Pacific octopus for example. This octopus can lay up to 10,000 eggs and spends the better part of a year taking care of her brood. Making sure these eggs are properly cleaned and safe from predators is a full time job, so she gives up everything for them, including eating. The mother unfortunately dies soon after the eggs hatch. Lucky for the babies, they have all the cool traits of being an octopus to protect them now that they’re on their own.
  6. On top of all of that, the octopus’ incredible intelligence has earned them the title of the smartest invertebrates in the world. Research continues to show that octopus have extreme intelligence. They use tools like rocks to protect their homes and take abandoned shells for temporary shelter. Some people even believed an octopus named Paul was psychic and could correctly guess winners of the World Cup. We wouldn’t bet on that though.

Octopuses definitely rank high on our list of the coolest ocean animals. Of all their amazing abilities, which one would you want?

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Underwater Astonishments…and Why We Must Preserve Them http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/05/underwater-astonishments-and-why-we-must-preserve-them/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/06/05/underwater-astonishments-and-why-we-must-preserve-them/#comments Wed, 05 Jun 2013 15:56:51 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5971

This video of oceanographer David Gallo‘s TEDTalk ‘Underwater Astonishments‘ highlights some of the most amazing ways creatures have adapted to life in the ocean.  It is being featured as part of TEDWeekends –- a curated series that introduces a powerful “idea worth spreading” and is a collaboration of TED and The Huffington Post.  This week’s TEDTalk is accompanied by an original blog post from David Gallo, along with new op-eds, thoughts and responses from the HuffPost community, myself included.

After watching the video, please read my companion opinion piece, “Preserving Our Underwater World” where I discuss why we cannot take the ocean’s resilience for granted, especially as we are saddled with an utterly uncertain climate future that is changing the ocean’s physical and biological characteristics right before our eyes.

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