Octopus at the Dock

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One of the best things about being on Dewees is that you never really know what nature surprises are in store for you on any given day. This week, Larry W and his friend. caught an octopus on a hook and line while fishing at the ferry dock.  He reeled in this beauty, who had emerged from a “den” in an old coffee mug, grabbed the bait, and jumped back into the coffee cup for shelter.  The bait, the line, the cup, and the octopus all ended up on the dock.


The octopus was at first an angry red, and the group on the dock put the poor cephalopod in a bucket, with his coffee cup and called Lori, the environmentalist. (Coffee cup at bottom of photo)

She found an aerator and gave him a bit of quiet.

This video has clips from the process:

And this close up shows just how sensitive to light they are: you can see the color changes flash across the octopus as the sunlight in the room changes and he moves in relation to the carpet.

Lori took it to the aquarium to hang out with our former (think 12 years back) Shannon Teders Howard, a senior biologist on the staff at the South Carolina Aquarium, greeted them and helped the Octopus get settled in his (or her) new home. When I checked with Shannon yesterday (and asked for more info about the species), she said,

Dewees AKA Joe is doing fabulous and is keeping his/her coffee cup close.

Their lifespan can range from 15-24 months. Females lay eggs at the end of their lifespan and are good mothers, keeping their eggs clean and protected. After a month or more, the eggs hatch and the mother will pass away naturally. They are very intelligent and are great hunters. Blue crabs and other crustaceans are their favorite food source. Based on his/her size I believe Dewees is about 4-5 months old.

Shannon also sent these photos of him over at the Aquarium in his tank, still in his mug.

I also looked in some of my favorite field guides and found out a little bit more about these cool creatures.

In Sex, Drugs, and Sea Slime: the Oceans’ Oddest creatures and Why They Matter, Ellen Prager explains that cephalopod Must be wary of predators: unlike other maritime creatures they don’t have protective shell. Almost all marine carnivores will eat them, so they’ve developed an array of defenses.  They have the biggest brains of any invertebrates. Adept at camouflage, they can change both the color and texture of their skin. They can even make their underside lighter and the topside darker so that they are harder to see from below or above. Prager also delves into their reproductive habits: If you want to know more about the romance of Octopuses and their personal lives, you can read the book. (link below)

I think our species was a common octopus, Octopus vulgaris. The skin is normally a reddish brown but can change easily.

They tend to be solitary and keep a sort of den.  In Life Along the Inner Coast, Robert and Alice Jane Lippson describe their hiding places, and the shells and debris that can accumulate outside them as they consume their prey in the den.  They also provide the interesting commercial fact that over 100,000 tons are harvested annually.  For people to eat.

Like other molluscs(moon snails, etc.) they have a sharp tongue called a radula that bores into their prey and can inject a toxin which relaxes the muscles of a clam or other bivalve: the octopus can then pry it open. Or it can use the parrot-like beak to overcome prey like crabs or lobster.

Click here for a great National Geographic Video about these incredible creatures.