The Art of Nature is epitomized in cephalopods – they are the most enigmatic jet powered, mesmerizing, mind controlling predators.
Cephalopods are the most intelligent, most mobile, and the largest of all molluscs. The order comprises of squid, octopuses, cuttlefish, the chambered nautilus, and their relatives display remarkable diversity in size and lifestyle with adaptations for predation, locomotion, disguise and communication.
They jet about in the water column, hide in plain sight with living invisibility, and their ingenuity and inventiveness are miraculous. These "brainy" animals have evolved suckered tentacles, camera-like eyes, colour-changing skin, and complex learning behaviour. With an impressive 500 million years evolutionary history, they are mythical animals of fabled tales of sea monster in the literature and folklore of human around the world.
Octopus can imitate their surroundings in a flash; they can fly underwater and have advanced hypnotic talent. Cuttlefish can adopt over sixty complex colour patterns, making a type of ‘language’, or a sophisticated visual alphabet for communication. Cephalopods also change their body shape in an instant.
In comparison to cephalopods, chameleons seem like imposters when labelled ‘masters of camouflage’. Chameleons are mere beginners. A cuttlefish can easily outperform a chameleon and do it much faster - they are the real masters of colour change and cryptic camouflage. . A close encounter with these harlequin predators never fails to amaze.
The Ultimate Act of Mother’s Love
I am diving on a sand flat, at low tide. The water is murky and there is a current. I spot a blue-ringed octopus on a tiny rock. Why is it out in the open? At the sight of me, she immediately curls back her eight arms and exposes her mouth. Her stunning blue rings and lines flash a warning to me. Octopi are normally shy, but this is her ultimate threat pose, the one she uses immediately before an attack. One bite from her is potentially deadly. As I photograph this octopus, I notice that she has eggs, each one about three millimetres round. They are tied together with some sort of connective tissue like a string bag.
I am amazed when a tiny baby pops out right in front of me. It is a perfect miniature, complete with brown transverse stripes. I also notice flashes of blue lines and rings on the five-millimetre baby. They must fend for themselves from the moment they hatch, but luckily nature has equipped them well with warming colours and deadly toxins. The mother knows that visibility is poor and the current will help her hatchlings to scatter in the current, which is why she has chosen this particular spot.
The tiny baby drifts off into the current, hoping to make a getaway. Over the next ten minutes, I witness 25 babies hatching. At the end of the hatching, the egg basket is released and the mother slinks off exhausted. She will soon perish, as she has not eaten for weeks during this entire brooding period.
Her eggs are highly nutritious and fish regard them as a delicacy, which is why she has protected them so diligently. Baby octopi are on the menu. Once they hatch, they are perfect morsels for an army of hungry mouths waiting nearby, watching closely. When the main egg mass is released, fish hover about trying to catch a newborn octopus for breakfast. Life can be very short for these babies. This is a very rare spectacle and a great thrill for me
Two months before at the same dive site, Shiprock in Sydney’s south, I discovered a female common octopus, Octopus vulgarus. She too had eggs. She was secreted in a small cave with perhaps 100 pure white egg strings that had been glued to the roof of her little hideaway. Each of these strings had twenty or so eggs on it so I estimated that she had about 2,000 eggs. The mother octopus was standing guard and continually fanning the eggs with fresh oxygenated water from her siphon.
I consider the fact that pregnant humans have to ‘eat for two’. The demands of a developing baby make it vital for pregnant mums to have a diet good enough to supply nutrients for both herself and the baby. The female octopus has produced 2,000 eggs!
Live Fast and Die Young
Most octopuses live for just over a year. My mathematical brain tries to imagine the trillions of cephalopods that have been born and died over the last 400 million years. The biomass of calamari over the eons probably outweighs the mass of the ocean in the same way that flies would if there were no spiders. Our ocean is a most incredible and mind blowing place!
Essay by Mike Scotland ( OG 40)