Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Octopuses are well-armed for anything

Michael Antoine

Much like the French, octopuses are spineless beings who will emit a sticky, stinky blackish-brown substance when fleeing their enemies. Unlike the French, octopuses are bad ass. Lets take a look at some examples. The blue-ringed octopus is docile species, however it has venom toxic enough to kill an adult man, and for which no anti-venom is currently available or even known of. 

The mimic octopus has the incredible ability to disguise itself as other animals. Not only will it mimic the appearance, but will impersonate the animals behavior and unlike Nicholas Cage, will do it convincingly. The mimic has been observed impersonating 15 different animals including flounders, lion fish, crabs, sea snakes and even jellyfish (because no one wants to mess with a jelly fish).

Octopuses have even made their presence known in human cultures such as the symbols hockey playoffs, bioengineering models, deciders of FIFA world cup champions, the kraken, and even octopus wrestling was a thing back in the day.

We know there are a large variety of distinct abilities for different species of octopus, but lets talk about the signature feature of the all octopuses…their eyes. Just kidding, I mean their tentacles. Most of you will assume that your average octopus has 8 arms, and you’d be wrong. The 2 most rear tentacles of an octopus are referred to as legs and are used primarily for moving across the ocean floor. The remaining 6 tentacles act as arms, one of which being the rare yet impressive penis/arm double threat. Yes that’s right, one of its tentacles also serves as a phallus and yes, it is probably bigger than yours. 

A male octopus will attempt to insert his “special arm” containing sacs of sperm into the female. If the female doesn’t like him she will push him away, but if she does accept, they will engage in some weird form of sexual combat that makes human sex look prude. Sometimes a male will rip off its penis arm and present it to the female who can hold on to the appendage until she needs know, for stuff.  Fortunately, this arm will grow back. Unfortunately the post sex life of a male octopus more or less sucks. The male will drift into senescence where they will act irrationally, meander about aimlessly, and even stop eating, essentially becoming Gary Busey in cephalopod form.  The Japanese have even named a heart condition after this behavior, called takotsubo cardiomyopathy or "broken-heart syndrome." The females don’t fair much better. They will retreat to a safe den where they will lay their eggs, protecting and gently blowing water across them, until they hatch. She will never leave the eggs alone, breaking down and metabolizing her own tissue for energy needs, often resulting in her death once the eggs hatch.

Tentacles are crucial for everyday functions of an octopus as well. They rely on them for mobility, manipulation, feeding, mating, adhering, sensing, and even tasting. Each of the independently moving suction cups on a tentacle will taste anything it touches, even on the penis arm. Gross. Stop thinking about it. These suction cups also allow them to adhere to a plethora of different surfaces that are found in the ocean, including other octopuses. How then, you might be asking yourself, are octopuses not accidentally sticking to themselves and becoming a tangled mess of tentacles? Well it turns out that the tentacles have a built in mechanism that prevents them from grabbing onto octopus skin. Dr. Nesher and colleagues sought to find out how this works by using amputated tentacles and seeing what they can and cannot grab onto. Turns out that the tentacles have no problems grasping other skinned tentacles, but once octopus skin is present it was like grasping a wet bar of soap. They determined that the mechanism must be chemical based because as the tentacles were completely incapable of grasping reconstructed skin (octopus skin broken down into a gel form).

It would probably confuse you then if I told you that octopus tentacles are still capable of adhering to octopus skin. It turns out that the octopus tentacles of have a mind of their own, and the “do not grasp thy kin” mechanism is built in to the tentacle brain nervous system. So when an octopus attempts to grab onto octopus skin, there is a sort of argument between the octopus and its arm, with the octopus saying “Grab it!” and the tentacle replying “No!”.

This division of the nervous isn’t always a bad thing and often works to the octopus’s advantage. Individual tentacles are capable of carrying out complex tasks on their own, allowing the octopus to be an incredibly efficient multi-tasker. The brain only needs to send a simple prompt such as seeing food and wanting it, and the tentacle will do the rest on its, coordinating the movement of the tentacles to the food, grasping it and bringing to the mouth on its own, without input from the brain. Tentacles that are amputated from the body can survive and remain active for over an hour. Amputated tentacles have even been shown to attempt to bring food to a non-existent mouthpart due to built in mechanisms.

This ability can impart be attributed to octopuses distributing roughly 2/3rds of their neurons in their tentacles. In total, octopuses have about 500 million neurons. To put this in some context, humans have about 86 billion neurons, dogs have 160 million neurons, and jellyfish have 800 neurons.

The large number of neuron contributes to octopuses’ impressive intelligence. They have been observed manipulating their environment, such as placing rocks in front of their den for protection and using tools such shells in order to build a home.

In studies, it has been shown that octopuses are capable of solving puzzles such as navigating landmarks, opening a jar to escape or achieve food, or even turning off lights in an aquarium.

While there is still much debate as to how intelligent these tour de forces are and if they are even sentient beings, one cannot argue against their impressive abilities. So when the octopuses rise up and claim their rightful spot as rulers of the world, at least you can say you saw it coming.



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"Octopus Arms Found to Have "Minds" of Their Own." National Geographic. National Geographic Society, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.
"Octopus Arms: Not Eight but Six Arms and Two Legs." Mudfootedcom. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.
"Science Explains Why Octopus Arms Don't Stick Together." The Verge. N.p., 15 May 2014. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.
"Sexy Beast - Features - The Stranger." The Stranger. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.
"The Story Of An Octopus Named Otto." NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015.
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