• Sara Thompson

All Brains and No Bones

Updated: Sep 15

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Octopus in an aquarium; Image by Betty Wills, from Wikimedia commons

Invertebrates are animals that lack a spine or bones. Many assume invertebrates are also unintelligent, but one of the animal kingdom’s smartest animals is an invertebrate. Having nearly 300 species worldwide, all varieties of octopus have shown incredible intelligence and problem-solving skills, sometimes outsmarting the scientists that study them.

Octopuses have species as small as the star-sucker pygmy octopus, which is one inch long, and as large as the giant Pacific octopus, which has an arm length of around 14 feet! Despite the size differences and some unique ornamentation, octopus species have the same basic shape. They have a large head, called a mantle which contains all of the main organ systems for the animal.

Octopuses also have a siphon which it can push water out of to make a speedy getaway from predators. A beak-like mouth on the underside of the body, used to crack open the crabs and other shellfish it preys on. Lastly, the most well-known feature of an octopus is it’s eight appendages with rows of suckers. Octopus appendages are classified as arms, not tentacles. Tentacles only have suckers on the ends of the appendage, like with squids and cuttlefish, but octopuses have suckers along the whole appendage making them arms. Octopuses use their arms and suckers for much of their sensory input. The suckers have chemoreceptors, allowing the octopus to taste what it is touching, and also recognize itself so it does not get stuck to itself or tangled up.

Because octopuses do not have any bones in their bodies, they are able to fit into tiny crevasses in rocks to hide and evade predators. The main predators of an octopus are seals, sharks, turtles, and humans. An octopus can change its color to camouflage itself in its environment, and even communicate with others of its species. In captivity, octopuses have been shown to solve mazes and problem solve puzzles. Octopuses have also been shown to use tools to help them open objects containing their food, even in the wild they sometimes use tools to open the shells of their prey. They store both short- and long-term information and can solve both new and old puzzles when receiving food in their enclosures. If an octopus observes another solve a puzzle, they will not struggle with it when it is their turn, having watched another they knew the answer right away.

Octopuses are very curious and will often investigate divers and other objects they come across. But even though they are cute and curious, an octopus is still a wild animal and can be very dangerous. Their suckers are hard to peel off, and their beak can leave a very painful wound.

Campers in this week’s Animal Adventures Summer Science Camp learned about all different kinds of animals including birds, reptiles, insects, arachnids, mammals, fish, and more! Campers went on daily walks to observe and learn about the local flora and fauna and how they survive in the park. Campers also were able to meet and touch some of our resident insects and reptiles.

Explorit's coming events:

• Explorit is currently updating our facility and building our next exhibit. We are planning on opening the new exhibit with cleaning and safety protocols in place for October 2021.

• Like many small businesses the closures have had a significant impact on our income and sustainability. Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow: https://www.explorit.org/donate.

• Continue to support Explorit during this uncertain time by becoming a member. An Exploit Membership not only support us but grants the recipient with free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer and after-school camps, and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. For more information visit https://www.explorit.org/membership or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.