O is for Octopus

The octopus is totally unique with its soft body, no outer shell and 8 arm projections or tentacles. Their mouth and beak are located at the center of the tentacles. If the octopus loses one of the tentacles, another will grow in the same place. On each tentacle are as many as 240 suction cups arranged in 2 rows. The most common species in Belize is the Caribbean reef octopus. Octopuses have the most complex brain of invertebrates (animals lacking backbones). Octopuses use their memory to learn from their experiences and solve problems as they arise. For example, after a close call with a predator, an octopus will remember where the predator resides and will stay clear of that area. They have an acute sense of touch that aids in their survival and feeding. The eyes of octopuses are also highly complex, comparable to human eyesight. When an octopus is threatened, it will often release a cloud of dark purple ink into the surrounding water in an attempt to confuse the predator. The ink is highly toxic and if released into a confined area, even the octopus can become ill or die. Another survival technique that octopuses have evolved is changing their skin color. If the octopus needs to blend into a background to avoid a predator, pigment cells in the skin are activated, camouflaging the skin to match the surrounding environment. The color of the octopus also reflects its mood; for example, red signals anger, while white signals fear.

Octopuses live in shallow coastal waters and along the reef where there are formations that form caves and dens. They generally select a protected site for their long-term home. Octopuses are nocturnal, moving around at night.

Octopuses feed on crustaceans and mollusks, including crabs and lobsters. An octopus will frequently lure prey by waving an arm tip, mimicking a worm. The octopus then grabs the prey with its arms, biting it to inject a poisonous substance and a digestive enzyme. The octopus sucks the flesh from the prey, discarding the shell.

Two octopuses will mate for life. When it is time for reproduction, the male transfers sperm into the mantle cavity of the female with one of its arms. The female then lays thousands of eggs, attaching them to the roof of her den where they develop for 1-2 months. After the female lays the eggs she does not eat again and consequently dies soon after the eggs have hatched. The devoted male octopus often does not mate again.

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