lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

O is for Octopus

I adore octopuses – the most intelligent of invertebrates, their intelligence rivals that of the most intelligent primates. Here is a fabulous painting of one by Dru Marland – this is from a rather wonderful, fully illustrated book of poems, Inking Bitterns, available only from Gert Macky which I highly recommend, not just because I’m in it!

Dru's octopus for blog

The painting and the photo below shows the octopus’s syphon tube through which it shoots out the water that has been through its gills. It can shoot this water out in a jet to escape at top speed, and it is also through this that it jets its ink to numb the senses of and confuse predators. The photo was taken by Arnaud Abadie:

Arnaud Abadie octopus

Octopuses (cephalopods) first appeared on Earth around 296 MILLION years ago – before the very first dinosaurs. And they still have much the same form. So it’s not surprising really that they have involved high intelligence to make the best use of their environment.

In fact, an octopus is extremely brainy in every part, having 9 brains altogether – it has 2/3 of its neurones in its arms, and they can problem solve all on their own while their owner gets on with other pressing matters.

Octopus (and squid) eyes have lenses and muscles and they have excellent sight – but they have evolved separately from our eyes in a  process called convergent evolution (where the same answer to a problem has been achieved by different steps and by completely unrelated animals). In fact, their eyes are better than ours in that they have no blind spot.

They have 3 hearts, two to pump blood to the gills, and one to pump blood round the rest of the body. This heart stops beating when the octopus swims, which explains why they are so often seen crawling over the ocean floor rather than swimming, as this tires them.

Mainly muscle, their bodies can squeeze through tiny spaces, and as long as their beak can fit through, so can they, which means a 50 pound octopus can get through a two inch hole.

So why are they recognised as being intelligent? Lots of reasons. A group of scientists studying octopuses were baffled by the fact that overnight, specimens kept in the laboratory in another tank from the octopus disappeared. They set up a camera and saw the octopus, recognising when they had gone home for the night, opening and climbing out of its own tank, across the laboratory, and eating the creatures in the other tank in the room.

They can quickly learn by watching a person or another octopus, things like how to unscrew and open many different types of container to retrieve what’s inside.

They have been seen on the ocean floor collecting two halves of a large coconut shell, walking with them to another area and using the shell to hide inside.

They are masters of camouflage, changing instantly to merge in with any type of background, and can also use their arms and body to mimic other species – either a predator to avoid a predator of their own, or a harmless creature, so they can sneak up on prey. They have even been seen hiding down a hole, leaving one waving tentacle looking like a worm, as ‘bait’.

Have a look at this – you will be amazed!

And of course the last interesting fact I’m going to tell you (although I could go on and on!) is that they have blue blood as it is based on copper instead of iron. This helps them survive in the deep sea – but also means they are very sensitive to lowering PH levels in the water. As climate change progresses, the sea is becoming more acidic, and scientists are very concerned about octopuses and how they will survive. Various species of coral that are also harmed by acidification are already in trouble.

This just in – a link to a Washington Post article “Octopus slips out of aquarium tank, crawls across floor, escapes down pipe to ocean”. Imagine – a creature with that intelligence, being trapped in a tank, wanting to be able to escape – waiting to and planning its escape… It has to be cruel to keep one in an aquarium.

Here is my octopus poem – this is one of the first poems I had published, in a book called ‘Elephants Can’t Jump’, compiled by Brian Moses, pub. Belitha Press, 2001. I’m afraid I’ve had to make this on Word, and my hand isn’t steady enough to draw with the pen tool with a mouse, so it isn’t brilliant…

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Amorous Octopus

Octopus Word drawn

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© Liz Brownlee

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If you’d like to jump to another A-Z blog, please click here!

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Information from:

Evolution.

The terrarmarproject.

Smithsonian.

Arkive.

Painting of an octopus © Dru Marland, used by permission, available in ‘Inking Bitterns’, along with lots of wonderful animal poems, at Gert Macky.

Image by Arnaud Abadie on Flikr by Creative Commons License.

Prose and Poem and shape-drawing © Liz Brownlee, all rights reserved, not to be used in any manner whatsoever without the permission of the author.

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46 Comments

  1. Fascinating information about Octopuses. I love your poem and drawing. I want to be more like the Octopus; I definitely need more hands.

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  2. Cool blog! Very educational too!

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  3. Octopuses are FABULOUS animals… There is this book about them—wait, I’ll get you the name: The Soul of an Octopus, by Sy Montgomery. A good friend (a good writer, also) recommended it to me, and I’m dying to read it. Unfortunately, here in Curaçao it’s not that easy to get books (we have a grand total of two bookstores), but the store that sells my own book has offered to order it for me—yay! If you haven’t read it, you’d probably love it. And if you have, being such a fan of octopuses, would you recommend it?

    Great post, Liz!
    Guilie @ Life In Dogs

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    • Thank you for that, Guilie, I will look for it later!

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  4. I didn’t realize they were so intelligent.

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    • I know. I simply cannot bear seeing them on market stalls, knowing how they will have suffered and despaired at being caught.

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  5. Thank you for sharing about these amazing creatures. I love your poem, too. I heard the story about Inky the Octopus escaping from the aquarium. I was thinking about writing an octopus story inspired by his escape, but I’m not sure if it will be ready for “O” day, which hasn’t yet started here in the states.

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    • Hello, Susan! I wrote many of my entries, most of them, in the first week, I did about 3 a day on average, as I then like to have time to go round other peoples’. But many blogs this year don’t seem to be keeping up and lots have broken links.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s awesome. I might try that next time. I’ve noticed that a lot of blogs on the list haven’t posted and that the list is getting shorter. I’m really enjoying your posts.

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      • Thank you so much!

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome

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  6. greyzoned/angelsbark

    Love your poem Liz! I love the octopus too! I read about the escaping octopus in New Zealand just last week and I said “Good for him!” I think it’s very cruel to keep them in aquariums!
    They are fascinating creatures. Thanks for the education. That video was awesome !

    Michele at Angels Bark

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    • Thanks, Michele! I know, it’s like science fiction the way it changes, isn’t it?

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  7. I’m so glad you chose Octopus, Liz! They are one of my favourite animals to observe underwater. I saw octopuses mating in Thailand last December… it was fantastic. Your poem is very sweet too.

    Susan A Eames from
    Travel, Fiction and Photos

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    • Thanks, Susan – I have the feeling that we are too stupid to understand just how intelligent they are. I envy you your underwater experiences!

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  8. haha loved your creative verse 🙂

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  9. Fab!

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  10. I could almost change my mind about octopuses after reading your poem! They have always given me the creeps!

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    • Do you think any part of that is the awareness of its abilities, thought, understanding, intelligence combined with its alien form?

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  11. Thea OBrian

    9 brains! I can’t even imagine all they can stuff in there. Ha!
    http://enchantedfantasies.blogspot.com/

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    • Perhaps, if we could find a way of facilitating it, they could write poetry?

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  12. I had no idea their hearts stopped beating when they move. I knew they could get in and out of tight spaces because I just recently saw a documentary showing how they did this which just amazed both me and my hubby. I had no clue they could leave their tank and have a snack or escape. I was immediately having the theme music from the Great Escape in my head. They are so intelligent that we should learn from them. Your poem is great and I love the drawing under it:)

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  13. Loved the painting! Great, informative post!

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  14. Super poem and drawing. It may not be perfectly straight/curved, but it’s great!
    Jemima Pett

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. DonnaMcDine

    Truly fascinating! Wow nine brains and three hearts! That’s incredible!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Nine brains and three hearts! I love the octopus! And your poem, Liz. 🙂

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  18. ddeepa

    Wow, nice way to share some information too! 🙂 I had no idea they have nine brains and three hearts! Must be so complicated with all that info and extra feelings!

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    • Thank you! It’s very tricky to know just what each brain is in charge of but probably the leg ones are only interested in defence and food, the ‘being’ of the octopus is probably in its head!

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  19. I am so glad you posted about the octopus today. I saw that Washington Post article the other day! Fascinating creatures which are wayyyy too smart to be held in tank ( as they have proved time and time again)

    @AllysePanaro from
    The Frog Lady

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  20. Absolutely amazing! And loved the amorous octopus poem 🙂

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    • I saw one being cooked last night on an advert for a cookery programme. I’m not going to be able to watch that.

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      • I just ended up clicking on a terrible BBC link about dog meat. Can totally relate to what you say!

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  21. I didn’t know that Octopuses appeared on the earth before dinosaurs. Whereas dinosaurs have become extinct and only to see in exhibitions in museums, Octopuses are still hanging around. Absolutely great.

    Visiting from the A to Z Blog Challenge.

    Shalom,
    Patricia @ EverythingMustChange

    Like

    • It’s amazing, isn’t it! another species we have today that appeared before dinosaurs was crocodiles – they have changed a bit, but very similar.

      Like

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