About the plurals: The word "octopus" is Greek in origin, not Latin, and would be properly pluralised "octopodes". People who work around them at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco tend to say "octopusses". "Octopi" is right out.

Have you seen one? They are amazing to watch. They change color quickly: from white to red to greenish brown in the time it takes you to say "Wow!". Not only color, but texture: they can change from soap-smooth to the texture of a turkish towel as quickly as they change color.

I have often found them in the tidepools just south of San Francisco. Their camouflage is so good that you can look and look where your friend is pointing, there, in the water, by the rock and the coraline algae, and not see it. Wow.

Octopods are the most highly developed cephalopods around, and incidentally the most highly developed invertebrate (i.e. spineless) creatures. Usually they do on the seafloor what soldiers do in boot camp, i.e. they crawl around camouflaged, and they lurk in holes.

The camouflage abilities of octopods are nothing short of amazing. Not only can it take any colour or pattern of colours, but it can also change the structure of its skin, by making little warts pop up, for example. It also uses its very stretchy and variable bodily features to take, say, the form of a rocky seafloor. I have also seen a photo where an octopus had camouflaged its body completely as a rock, except for the syphon, which was upright and brightly yellow, so as to resemble a zoophyte.

Having lurked long enough in a hole, the octopus finally attacks his prey, usually by simply flinging its whole eight-tentacled physique over it. If the prey happens to have some kind of shell, it can either rip it apart by simply applying enough tentacles on either side and pulling or it can pry it open with his beak, which is located at the centre of his body, inmidst of the tentacles.

The modes of locomotion of an octopus are a great many. It can use its syphon as a little pumpjet to propel itself forward, head first; it then gathers its arms together behind the head and takes a streamlined shape. On the seafloor, many different ways of moving across the ground, using some or all of the tentacles, are employed, some slow (such as a sinister crawl with the tentacles curled up nearly completely), some fast (the beast stretched out lengthwise, and pulling on rocks tentacle-over-tentacle).

It is possible to teach an octopus many things, including distinguishing shapes and colours. Less scientifically useful, but more fun to watch is teaching an octopus how to pull corks out of bottles. Marine biology students with too much spare time tend to do that. It's arguably cooler than using a corkscrew.

Worth noting: On land, an octopus is about as helpless as a wet sock, but chiefly because of the relative dryness; amazing as it sounds, the boneless little beast can move outside of the water, but apparently only over comparably slippery surfaces. It looks like a huge puddle of strangely animated barf and pulls itself forward with an oozing motion. For example, it can crawl off a fisherboat's deck back into the water under its own power. I use to wonder why cephalopods have not made it on land.

Some octopuses have a garden.

As proof of their intelligence several studies have been done to test their problem solving and learning ability.

One of their favorite foods is lobster. When presented with a lobster inside a glass bottle with a stopper, the test animals quickly figured out how to remove the stopper and get out the snack. When the lid was screwed on, most could figure out how to unscrew the lid.

When the screw-on lid gave some of the subjects problems, they were placed in an aquarium with a window looking at a neighbor who had figured it out. When the other octopus received a treat in a bottle, the first would stop trying to get at theirs, and jet over to watch their neighbor. Generally after watching once they would rush back to their own bottle, open it, and enjoy their treat.

They have also been known to become quite attached to their keepers, to the point where they wont eat if their normal keeper is gone for too long. In some cases, they have become depressed and starved to death when they have had only one keeper and that person retires or quits.

Octopods are one of the few creatures that have monogamous relationships. A male or female octopus will not mate with any other octopus other than its chosen one. The female dies shortly after giving birth, but her partner stays with her until her death and does not mate again.


Octopuses (along with their closest cephalopod kin, nautiluses, cuttlefish and squids) are the most dynamic members of phylum Mollusca, which also includes snails and oysters.

There are thought to be about 200 species of octopuses. The most common species is Octopus vulgaris, which is found in every ocean and gets to be about three feet long.

They come in a wide range of sizes. The smallest species is the Californian Octopus (Octopus micropyrsus) which as adults may only be a half-inch long. The largest species is the North Pacific Octopus (Octopus dofleini) which can be over 30 feet in length and well over 100 pounds in weight.

The largest confirmed octopus ever caught was 33 feet long and weighed 600 pounds. However, there are rumors of some North Pacific octopuses living in deep waters off the coast of Canada that get to truly gigantic size. A fisherman once found a rotted lump of cephalopod that weighed in at close to a ton; tissue samples later identified the flesh as belonging to an octopus rather than a squid.


Anatomically, octopuses are quite interesting. Instead of a penis, male octopuses have a specialized tentacle (usually the third tentacle on their right side) that they use for sex.

These cephalopods also have three hearts. They have a heart at the end of each of their gills; these hearts pump the blood through the gills. Their third heart pumps blood through the rest of the octopus' body.

Octopus blood itself is interesting because it uses a copper-based molecule to carry oxygen instead of the more familiar iron-using hemoglobin molecules found in vertebrate animals. Because of the copper, octopus blood appears blue instead of red.

Octopus eyes are quite sophisticated, and octopuses have very good vision. However, their eyes function differently than human eyes; instead of changing the shape of their lens to focus on different object, the muscles of their eyes move the lens back and forth within the eyeball.

But even without their vision, octopuses can get around quite well due to the extreme sensitivity of the suckers in their tentacles. In laboratory tests, blindfolded octopuses could tell different objects apart as well as visually-unimpeded octopuses.

Octopuses also have the most complex brains of any invertebrates; they quickly learn new tasks by trial-and-error, and they seem to form the same short-term and long-term memories as vertebrate animals.

Octopuses: Master Escape Artists

Being such highly intelligent creatures, octopuses are also master escape artists, and can be hard to keep in an aquarium if they want out. I've known a couple of people who've gotten a small octopod for their home saltwater aquarium, only to find the creature dead and dried-up on the floor after it pried off the tank lid and crawled out in the night. One acquaintance of mine found his little octopod dead of electrocution after it escaped from its tank and made the mistake of probing a socket on a nearby power strip with one of its damp tentacles.

My marine biology professor from my undergrad college once had a laboratory job where they often kept octopuses. He learned a simple technique for convincing the new octopus that, yes, it really wanted to stay put in the aquarium.

He'd put the new octopus in the tank, do some odds and ends in the lab for a few minutes, then leave the room and turn out the lights. He'd wait outside until he heard the telltale, sodden slap that mean the octopus had staged a jailbreak and had hit the floor. He'd wait one minute, then go back into the lab and put the octopus back in the tank.

He'd repeat the process, the next time waiting three minutes. And on the third time, he waited a whole five minutes before rescuing the miserable, sticky, dust-bunny-covered octopus from the lab floor, rinsing it off, and placing it back in the aquarium.

After that third time, he told me, an octopus wouldn't try to escape again. In fact, he sometimes had to work hard to get it out if it needed to be examined or transferred to a new tank so the old one could be cleaned.

The Octopus was the tentative title of a book about an amazing series of interlocking conspiracies researched by the late Danny Casolaro. Casolaro was investigating the theft of proprietary software by the Inslaw Corporation called PROMIS. PROMIS basically was database analyzer intended to allow Law Enforcement agencies to gather data from cross-platform or disparate databanks and output the information in a coherent form. In the mid '80s INSLAW licensed a version to the Department of Justice for a trial run. A contract was signed giving Inslaw royalties on any use of the software. This is where the story takes a turn towards the bizarre.

It turns out that the PROMIS software was so versatile that with a little tweaking it could be modified to analyze anything from banking transactions to troop movements to security sytems. Allegedly the DoJ gave the software to a man named Michael Riconsciuto an employee of the infamous Wackenhut Corporation, based at an installation on the Cabazon Indian reservation. Riconosciuto reconfigured the software, giving it a back-door with encrypted access and enhanced tracking capabilities. The DoJ apparently took the reconfigured software and sold it to third parties such as Canada, Libya, Iraq, Sudan and Russia - giving them access to whatever data was analyzed by the software. The Inslaw Corporation only learned of the sales (for which they were never paid) after the Canadian government contacted them for technical support.

Inslaw promptly sued the DoJ for royalty infringement, and has repeatedly won in State courts. Unfortunately, every time the case reached the Federal Appelate level it would be tossed out due to National Security reasons. The ensuing legal battles forced Inslaw into bankruptcy, which precluded them from pursuing their case against the government. A regular Catch 22.

The devil of course is in the details. It turns out that the Wackenhut Corporation, incorporated in the early '50s by George Wackenhut, ex-FBI, employer of Michael Riconsciuto, not only is the second largest operator of private prisons in the country, but also has exclusive contracts with the Department of Energy to guard nuclear power plants and laboratories, and with the Department of Defense to provide security for Sandia Labs and Area 51. Riconsciuto, who is currently in prison on methamphetimine charges (he claims innocence) alleges that he was involved in weapon development on the Cabazon reservation, including genetically targeted biological weapons, EM pulse weapons that could exceed the damage caused by a nuclear blast and night-vision technology that was subsequently sold to the Contras.

It gets worse. Riconsciuto claims he was provided the PROMIS software by none other than Earl Brian, ex-owner of UPI, who has been indicted in connection with funding for the Contras, the October Suprise and the now defunct Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI), which has been linked to covert CIA operations, money laundering for MAFIA heroin sales and the collapse of three banks associated with the Vatican.

Danny Casolaro was found dead in a motel bathtub August 10th, 1991. His wrist had been slashed a dozen times and a bloodstained towel was found under the sink. His body was embalmed before his relatives were notified and his death declared a "suicide". His notes were never found.

Octopus is the largest yacht in the world, measuring 413'4".

Octopus is owned by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. She has two helicopter landing pads, a basketball court, a movie theater, and a recording studio capable of professional level production. Since its size prevents her from docking at most ports, Octopus features a 60 foot tender and is expected to include a fuel cell powered 10 person submarine capable of staying submerged for two weeks.

Operated by a crew of 53 people, Octopus was launched in 2003 and has been seen in Portugal, St. Martin, and New Orleans. The 200 million dollar yacht was designed by Espen Øino Naval Architects and constructed by Lürssen in Germany. For comparison, the Queen Mary 2, the largest cruise ship in the world, is ~1130 feet long.

Allen also owns the 12th largest yacht, Tatoosh, which stays mainly in the Pacific, ranging from the Galapagos Islands to Palau and New Zealand. The cinema on Tatoosh has hydraulic seats that elevate if someone sits in front of you. He also owns Méduse, the 65th largest in the world. U2 has used the production facilities on Méduse for recording. There is some speculation that he bought Le Grand Bleu, the world's 6th largest at 354', from McCaw Cellular cofounder John McCaw and briefly owned it before selling her to a (presumably wealthy) friend of Vladimir Putin's.

Despite her cost and size, Octopus is expected to be the world's largest yacht for less than two years. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's 425-footer is planned to be launched in 2005.

Sources: Wall Street Journal, 07May04
http://www.powerandmotoryacht.com/february04/octopus1.jpg octopus2.jpg octopus3.jpg octopus4.jpg

Oc"to*pus (?), n. [NL. See Octopod.] Zool.

A genus of eight-armed cephalopods, including numerous species, some of them of large size. See Devilfish,


© Webster 1913.

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