Science writer Jude Isabella spent months researching wildlife camouflage for her article “Visual deception,” published in the Winter 2012 edition of British Columbia Magazine. Read on to learn about the animal that stopped her in her tracks.
Which animal impressed you the most? “While the decorator crab is entrancing with its slavish devotion to Fashion Camouflage, edible camouflage no less, I would have to say the giant Pacific octopus.”
How does the animal camouflage itself? “They instantly morph themselves, changing colours and textures to match their surroundings. Obviously a winning life strategy—octopuses have roamed the planet for 450 million years. And, aside from their presto-chango antics, they’re also brainy. All this makes octopuses otherworldly to me. As someone whose beach reading list is full of sci/fi and fantasy titles, I can see how watching an octopus would tickle a writer’s imagination. Changelings, for example, in Star Trek—inspired by octopuses? Maybe. Changelings are also naturally gelatinous when not taking on human or other forms.”
What do they hunt? “Changeling or octopus? Ha! Octopuses usually dine on crabs, scallops, clams, shrimp, and fish. (Their saliva has a kind of venom that paralyzes their unlucky entrees.) They will scavenge too, given the opportunity.”
When do they hunt, typically? “Typically at night. They hide in crevices and small caves during the day.” What are their known predators? “Sea lions, harbour seals, sea otters, and sperm whales prey on octopuses, which escape an attack by squirting ink at the threat and then using jet propulsion to distance itself from the danger of ending up as some other creature’s meal.”
Any other facts we should know about this master of deception? “The giant Pacific octopus has pale blue blood. And the latest octopus housed at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., named Pandora, is Canadian, hailing from British Columbia as did the zoo’s last beloved octopus, Octavius, who died in 2011, age four. (The octopus’s average life span is three to five years.)”