Octopuses, the "Brains" of the sea

Quite often what catches the eye of people when they see the Green Reef logo is an octopus tangling its arms around the letters. The octopus wasn't chosen simply for decoration; octopuses are commonly found around this area and represent one of the many fascinating marine creatures found in Belize.

Most often it is the Caribbean Reef Octopus (Octopus briareus) that swims among the Belize reef environment, although other species do visit these waters. Unfortunately, due to Hollywood's inaccurate depiction of octopuses as dumb and dangerous (only two species found in Australia are harmful), these highly intelligent creatures are rarely given the proper attention they deserve.

In actuality, octopuses have the most complex brain of invertebrates (animals lacking backbones). Scientists have discovered that 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. The acute sense of touch that octopuses have also aids in their survival and in finding prey. The suckers that are found on the underside of its eight tentacles act as eyes that can differentiate between different sizes and shapes and help it find prey, such as lobsters and crabs. The actual eyes of octopuses are also highly complex, comparable to human eyesight.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun
When an octopus finds itself in a compromising situation with a predator, it will often release a cloud of dark purple ink into the surrounding water in an attempt to confuse the predator. Sometimes, however, this survival technique backfires and causes harm to the octopus. The ink is highly toxic and if released into a confined area or where water lacks current, the octopus can become ill and even die. Another less deadly 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 the mood of the creature; for example, red signals anger, while white signals fear.

When the situation is less tense and it's time for an octopus to mate, this monogamous creature chooses one partner and stays with it for life.

The male octopus differs from the female in that at the end of one of its arms is a sucker used specifically to transfer a packet of sperm into the mantle cavity of the female. When the time arises for the female to lay her eggs, she may lay somewhere from 200,000-400,000 tiny eggs, with only one or two surviving to become an adult. 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.

These fascinating creatures are often seen around this area, particularly in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, ranging in size from six inches to three feet. Like all animals found in the sea, the octopus faces such threats as polluted water, as well as diminishing resources due to environmental exploitation. Protecting this species is yet another reason why we need to conserve and respect the environment.

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