Octopus granulatus, a South African species.
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Octopuses have a relatively short life expectancy, and some species live for as little as six months. Larger species, such as the North Pacific Giant Octopus, may live for up to five years under suitable circumstances. However, reproduction is a cause of death: males can only live for a few months after mating, and females die shortly after their eggs hatch. They neglect to eat during the (roughly) one month period spent taking care of their unhatched eggs, but they don't die of starvation. Endocrine secretions from the two optic glands are the cause of genetically-programmed death (and if these glands are surgically removed, the octopus may live many months beyond reproduction, until she finally starves).
Octopuses have three hearts. Two pump blood through each of the two gills, while the third pumps blood through the body. Octopus blood contains the copper-rich protein hemocyanin for transporting oxygen. Although less efficient under normal conditions than the iron-rich hemoglobin of vertebrates, in cold conditions with low oxygen pressure, hemocyanin oxygen transportation is more efficient than hemoglobin oxygen transportation. The hemocyanin is dissolved in the plasma instead of being bound in red blood cells and gives the blood a blue color. Octopuses draw water into their mantle cavity where it passes through its gills. As mollusks, octopuses have gills that are finely divided and vascularized outgrowths of either the outer or the inner body surface.
Octopuses are highly intelligent, probably more intelligent than any other order of invertebrates. The exact extent of their intelligence and learning capability is much debated among biologists, but maze and problem-solving experiments have shown that they do have both short- and long-term memory. Their short lifespans limit the amount they can ultimately learn. There has been much speculation to the effect that almost all octopus behaviors are independently learned rather than instinct-based, although this remains largely unproven. They learn almost no behaviors from their parents, with whom young octopuses have very little contact.
An octopus has a highly complex nervous system, only part of which is localized in its brain. Two-thirds of an octopus's neurons are found in the nerve cords of its arms, which have a remarkable amount of autonomy. Octopus arms show a wide variety of complex reflex actions arising on at least three different levels of the nervous system. Some octopuses, such as the Mimic Octopus, will move their arms in ways that emulate the movements of other sea creatures.
In laboratory experiments, octopuses can be readily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. They have been reported to practice observational learning, although the validity of these findings is widely contested on a number of grounds. Octopuses have also been observed in what some have described as play: repeatedly releasing bottles or toys into a circular current in their aquariums and then catching them. Octopuses often break out of their aquariums and sometimes into others in search of food. They have even boarded fishing boats and opened holds to eat crabs.
In some countries, octopuses are on the list of experimental animals on which surgery may not be performed without anesthesia. In the UK, cephalopods such as octopuses are regarded as honorary vertebrates under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and other cruelty to animals legislation, extending to them protections not normally afforded to invertebrates.
A common belief is that when stressed, an octopus may begin to eat its own arms. However, limited research conducted in this area has revealed that the cause of this abnormal behavior, called self-cannibalism, may be a virus that attacks the octopus's central nervous system. Thus this behavior may be more correctly labeled as a neurological disorder.
An octopus's main (primary) defense is to hide, either not to be seen at all, or not to be detected as an octopus. Octopuses have several secondary defenses (defenses they use once they have been seen by a predator). The most common secondary defense is fast escape. Other defenses include the use of ink sacs, camouflage, and autotomising limbs.
Most octopuses can eject a thick blackish ink in a large cloud to aid in escaping from predators. The main colouring agent of the ink is melanin, which is the same chemical that gives humans their hair and skin colour. This ink cloud is thought to dull smell, which is particularly useful for evading predators that are dependent on smell for hunting, such as sharks. Ink clouds of some species might serve as pseudomorphs, or decoys that the predator attacks instead.
An octopus's camouflage is aided by certain specialized skin cells which can change the apparent color, opacity, and reflectiveness of the epidermis. Chromatophores contain yellow, orange, red, brown, or black pigments; most species have three of these colors, while some have two or four. Other color-changing cells are reflective iridophores, and leucophores (white). This color-changing ability can also be used to communicate with or warn other octopuses. The very venomous blue-ringed octopus becomes bright yellow with blue rings when it is provoked. Octopuses can use muscles in the skin to change the texture of their mantle in order to achieve a greater camouflage. In some species the mantle can take on the spiky appearance of seaweed, or the scraggly, bumpy texture of a rock, among other disguises. However in some species skin anatomy is limited to relatively patternless shades of one color, and limited skin texture. It is thought that octopuses that are day-active and/or live in complex habitats such as coral reefs have evolved more complex skin than their nocturnal and/or sand-dwelling relatives.
A few species, such as the Mimic Octopus, have a fourth defense mechanism. They can combine their highly flexible bodies with their color changing ability to accurately mimic other, more dangerous animals such as lionfish, sea snakes, and eels.
Octopuses have keen eyesight. Although their slit-shaped pupils might be expected to afflict them with astigmatism, it appears that this is not a problem in the light levels in which an octopus typically hunts. Surprisingly, they do not appear to have color vision, although they can distinguish the polarization of light. Attached to the brain are two special organs, called statocysts, that allow the octopus to sense the orientation of its body relative to horizontal. An autonomic response keeps the octopus's eyes oriented so that the pupil slit is always horizontal.
Octopuses also have an excellent sense of touch. An octopus's suction cups are equipped with chemoreceptors so that the octopus can taste what it is touching. The arms contain tension sensors so that the octopus knows whether its arms are stretched out. However, the octopus has a very poor proprioceptive sense. The tension receptors are not sufficient for the octopus brain to determine the position of the octopus's body or arms. (It is not clear that the octopus brain would be capable of processing the large amount of information that this would require; the flexibility of an octopus's arms is much greater than that of the limbs of vertebrates, which devote large areas of cerebral cortex to the processing of proprioceptive inputs.) As a result, the octopus does not possess stereognosis; that is, it does not form a mental image of the overall shape of the object it is handling. It can detect local texture variations, but cannot integrate the information into a larger picture.
The neurological autonomy of the arms means that the octopus has great difficulty learning about the detailed effects of its motions. The brain may issue a high-level command to the arms, but the nerve cords in the arms execute the details. There is no neurological path for the brain to receive feedback about just how its command was executed by the arms; the only way it knows just what motions were made is by observing the arms visually.
Octopuses move about by crawling or swimming. Their main means of slow travel is crawling, with some swimming. Jet propulsion is their fastest means of locomotion, followed by swimming and bipedal walking.
They crawl by walking on their arms, usually on many at once, on both solid and soft surfaces, while supported in water. In 2005 it was reported that some octopuses (Abdopus aculeatus and Amphioctopus marginatus under current taxonomy) can walk on two arms, while at the same time resembling plant matter. This form of locomotion allows these octopuses to move quickly away from a potential predator while possibly not triggering that predator's search image for octopus (food). Octopuses lack bones and are extremely vulnerable to predators.
There are three forms of the plural of octopus; namely, octopuses, octopi, and octopodes. Currently, octopuses is the most common form in the UK as well as the US; octopodes is rare, and octopi is often objected to.
The Oxford English Dictionary (2004 update) lists octopuses, octopi and octopodes (in that order); it labels octopodes "rare", and notes that octopi derives from the mistaken assumption that octōpūs is a second declension Latin noun, which it is not. Rather, it is (Latinized) Greek, from oktṓpous (ὀκτώπους), gender masculine, whose plural is oktṓpodes (ὀκτώποδες). If the word were native to Latin, it would be octōpēs ('eight-foot') and the plural octōpedes, analogous to centipedes and mīllipedes, as the plural form of pēs ('foot') is pedes. In modern, informal Greek, it is called khtapódi (χταπόδι), gender neuter, with plural form khtapódia (χταπόδια).
Chambers 21st Century Dictionary and the Compact Oxford Dictionary list only octopuses, although the latter notes that octopodes is "still occasionally used"; the British National Corpus has 29 instances of octopuses, 11 of octopi and 4 of octopodes. Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary lists octopuses and octopi, in that order; Webster's New World College Dictionary lists octopuses, octopi and octopodes (in that order).
The term octopod (plural octopods or octopodes) is taken from the taxonomic order Octopoda but has no classical equivalent. The collective form octopus is usually reserved for animals consumed for food.
Ancient peoples of the Mediterranean were cognizant of the octopus, as evinced by certain artworks and designs of prehistory. For example, a stone carving found in the archaeological recovery from Bronze Age Minoan Crete at Knossos has a depiction of a fisherman carrying an octopus.
The Hawaiʻian creation myth relates that the present cosmos is only the last of a series, having arisen in stages from the wreck of the previous universe. In this account, the octopus is the lone survivor of the previous, alien universe.
Many species of octopus are eaten as food by human cultures around the world. The arms and sometimes other parts of the body are prepared in various ways, often depending on the species being eaten.
Care must be taken to boil the octopus properly, to rid it of slime and the smell, as well as any residual ink. Octopus is a common ingredient in Japanese cuisine, including sushi, takoyaki, and Akashiyaki. Some small species are sometimes eaten alive as a novelty and health food (mostly in South Korea). Similarly, a live octopus may be sliced up and the legs eaten while still squirming, which they continue to do for some minutes.
Octopus are also eaten regularly in Hawai'i, many of the popular dishes being Asian in origin. Locally known by their Hawaiian or Japanese name, ("he'e" and "tako" respectively) octopus are also a popular catch used as fish bait.
Though octopuses can be difficult to keep in captivity, some people keep them as pets. Octopuses often escape even from supposedly secure tanks, due to their problem solving skills, mobility and lack of rigid structure.
The variation in size and life span among octopus species makes it difficult to know how long a new specimen can naturally be expected to live. That is, a small octopus may be just born or may be an adult, depending on the species. By selecting a well-known species, such as the California Two-spot Octopus, one can choose a small octopus (around the size of a tennis ball) and be confident that it is young with a full life ahead of it.
Octopuses are also quite strong for their size. Octopuses kept as pets have been known to open the covers of their aquariums and survive for a time in the air in order to get to a nearby feeder tank and gorge themselves on the fish there. They have also been known to catch and kill some species of sharks.