Tag Archives: octopus

It’s a fact: A squid’s a squid and an octopus is an octopus

Published September 21, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser
©2015 Susan Scott

One of Claire’s 3-inch- long squids — not the same as an octopus. ©2015 Susan Scott

One of Claire’s 3-inch- long squids — not the same as an octopus. ©2015 Susan Scott

I have a special reader in the Seattle area who loves ocean animals as much as I do. For years, Claire has sent clippings and Internet links that she thinks will be interesting to me. And they always are.

Last week she sent an online magazine piece, found at cnet.co/1UV8YYX, with this headline: “These terrifying squids will freak you out (pictures).” With the link also came Claire’s usual good questions, not about squids, but about octopuses. That’s because her first question was, “Are squid and octopus interchangeable terms?” No. Although the two animals are closely related, they’re different creatures in different families. About 300 species of octopuses and 300 species of squids inhabit the world’s oceans. Both come in miniature versions of their kind, and go all the way up to fearsome giants — fearsome because besides looking bizarre, squids and octopuses are impressive predators.

In most parts of the world, an octopus is called an octopus and a squid a squid. Hawaii octopus hunters, however, use squid for both. Ancient Hawaiians distinguished the two, naming squids muhee and octopuses hee. The word tako, common in Hawaii, is Japanese for octopus.


And yes, Claire, people hunt octopuses here and throughout the world, including species of the Pacific Northwest. Octopus is considered by many a delicacy, both raw and cooked. The demand for octopus as food is spawning aquaculture ventures, a challenging industry given the drifting conditions tiny octopus hatchlings need to get started in life.

Claire wondered about the correct plural for octopus. It’s not octopi. An “i” ending is plural in Latin, but octopus is a Greek word and the plural ending in that language is “odes.” But since “octopodes” never caught on, linguists and researchers have settled on the English ending “es.” And so we say, correctly, sort of, octopuses.

Although they belong to separate families, octopuses and squids have similarities. One is that all have eight suckered arms. These are arms, not tentacles, a necessary distinction because in addition to eight arms, squids have two tentacles, specialized for snatching fast-swimming prey in the open ocean. Squid tentacles can stretch long and retract fast like rubber bands.

To answer Claire’s last question, octopuses can indeed grow an arm back if they lose one. Unlike some starfish, though, the lost arm can’t grow a new octopus.

Claire, by the way, is my mother-in-law, and at 92 is still a great snorkeling buddy. The last time we snorkeled together on the North Shore, she found something I’ve never seen before or since: three baby squids.

Thank you, Claire, for questioning and keeping me current.

Resized squid_sm

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


Not all octopus mating ends with male’s death

Published August 31, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott

A day octopus on Oahu’s North Shore. ©2015 Susan Scott

When courting, what does the male larger Pacific striped octopus sing to the female larger Pacific striped octopus?

“I want you back in my arms, arms, arms, arms, arms, arms, arms, arms again.”

For most octopus species, this would never be the song of choice because female octopuses sometimes eat their baby daddies. If males want to live to fertilize again, they must keep the object of their affection at arm’s length.

The larger Pacific striped octopus (LPSO for short), however, has a more friendly style of mating. In a recent study published in the online journal PLOS One, California researchers report that pairs of this species from the Pacific coast of Central America mate beak to beak, their 16 arms wriggling, grappling and hugging.

Typical octopus sex is as odd as the creatures themselves. Males have one specialized arm that stores and delivers sperm.

In most species, when a male and female meet, the male keeps his distance, stretching the loaded arm out to the female to deposit his sperm packet internally.

Courtesy Arcadio Rodariche.

In one Tahiti study of the day octopus, Hawaii’s most common species, a male reached out and fertilized the same female 12 times in about three hours. He should have rolled over and gone to sleep: On the 13th transfer she ate him.

The word “larger” in the name “larger Pacific striped octopus” refers to a close cousin, the lesser Pacific striped octopus having a mantle about the size of a strawberry. The larger species’ mantle is about size of a tangerine.

An octopus mantle is the bag of flesh that in cartoon octopuses is depicted as a bulbous snout or bulging brain. It’s neither. The sack houses the octopus’s three hearts, liver, kidney and other internal organs. The animal’s impressive brain lies below the mantle between the eyes.

The 24 LPSOs in the California study had no interest in sexual cannibalism. One couple even shared a den and sometimes a meal, an oddity among octopuses, which usually lead solitary lives.

The LPSO researchers found another unique behavior in a hunting trick similar to the grade school prank of reaching behind someone and tapping them on the far shoulder to get them to turn the wrong way.

The LPSO does that, too, slowly reaching an arched arm, suckers up, over the top of a shrimp and giving it a tap it on the front of its upper shell. The startled shrimp scoots backward into the waiting predator.

Worth checking out are six short LPSO behavior videos near the end of the study. In the mating one, I imagine the grasping male singing, “I want to hold your hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand, hand.”

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


Messages arrive on the tide to please a seagoing scribe

That’s a moray. ©2015 Susan Scott

That’s a moray. ©2015 Susan Scott

Thank you, thoughtful readers, for sharing marine reports that brighten my day. In this era of so much bad news about the world’s oceans, it’s a relief to read items about them that make me smile.

Such as Obeka’s release. Obeka is the giant Pacific octopus I fell in love with while visiting the Fiero Marine Center in Port Angeles, Wash. On April 26, workers there took Obeka back to her ocean home.


When she came to live at the center, Obeka weighed only 3 ounces. Upon returning to the sea 14 months later, the octopus weighed 35 pounds. Hopefully Obeka will find a mate, lay her 68,000 eggs and tend them until they hatch about nine months later.

Obeka will die soon after her eggs hatch, as all octopuses do, but I don’t feel sad. The creature served as a stellar ambassador for her species and will leave behind the ultimate gift: offspring.

Besides being impressed by octopuses, I’m also obsessed with sea snakes. A friend who knows of my snaky passion sent me a study regarding the bar-bellied sea snake found near the coastline of Western Australia.

sea krait

Sea snakes don’t have many predators, but tiger sharks are one of them. Researchers discovered that at high tide, when the water is deep enough for the sharks to swim near shore, the snakes hang out in sea grass beds where their main source of food, fish, is scarce. When the tide goes out, though, so do the sharks, and the snakes resume their usual hunting over sand flats.

But the study doesn’t just show that sea snakes are smart enough to avoid predators — most prey animals are. It’s also a heads-up to biologists. When studying habitat and foraging behaviors of the bar-bellied sea snake, researchers need to note the state of the tides.

Bar-bellied sea snakes are the longest of all sea snakes, growing to 6 feet. I’ve not seen one. I live in hope.

Another reader sent a National Geographic link about by-the-wind sailors.

While approaching Australia’s east coast last fall, I sailed through massive numbers of these jelly creatures for 24 hours. The ones I saw peppered the water’s surface far and wide. But when the wind and currents are just right, or just wrong if you’re a by-the-wind sailor, the creatures run aground. Check out these amazing photos of millions of these jellies shipwrecked last month on West Coast beaches: bit.ly/1GVK0UH.

Scooped at sea_small

Finally, as a reminder that I shouldn’t take the negative news crowding my inbox too seriously, I’ll keep in mind last week’s message from a snorkeling buddy:

“When you’re down by the sea,

And an eel bites your knee,

That’s a moray.”

Thanks everyone for messages that make me smile.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


Here is one cephalopod that will be tough to forget

Published February 16, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott


Port Angeles, Wash. » While spending a few days in this town on the Olympic Peninsula, my friends took me to the Feiro Marine Center, where I fell in love with a giant Pacific octopus named Obeka.

“Giant” is part of the animal’s common name because this North Pacific species is the largest in the world. Adults grow to 110 pounds and, when spread out like an umbrella, can measure 20 feet across from arm tip to arm tip.

This female octopus isn’t fully grown.

She weighed 1 pound when brought to the center a year ago. Now she weighs 35 pounds with a span of nearly 7 feet.

Obeka is a striking life form. When I first saw the vivid-orange octopus, she was resting, her head hidden behind huge suckers stuck on the aquarium glass.


A giant octopus has about 1,600 suckers. The largest on an adult are 2 1⁄2 inches across and can support about 35 pounds each.

The outer edge of the sucker contains ridges that help prevent slipping when clamped down. Muscles control the shape of the inner wall, creating the suction force for each individual sucker. But these suckers do more than suck. They taste what they touch.

With hundreds of round “tongues,” the octopus can hunt in total darkness and find food under rocks and in cracks.


Food in this case is anything the creature can catch, including birds. A giant octopus once astonished Washington state ferry workers by hiding under a rock near the terminal.

When a gull landed on the exposed surface at low tide, a suckered arm appeared from below, grabbed the unsuspecting bird and hauled it below for a meal.

The stories about giant octopuses slithering out of covered aquarium tanks to go hunting in a neighboring tank are true. Even though the boneless animals look like slimy blobs out of the water, their muscular arms and suckers still function on dry surfaces and can pull the body along for short distances.

Obeka so impressed me that I bought a book about giant octopuses. After reading a bit and chatting with the center’s workers, I revisited Obeka’s tank to tell her how extraordinary and beautiful I thought she was.


As if hearing me, she woke up, looked at me with intelligent eyes and crawled around her tank seemingly posing for pictures.

Before Obeka grows to full size, the marine center will return the potential mother to her ocean home to reproduce. She’ll die soon after her 68,000 eggs hatch (giant octopuses live about four years), but she will have left more than baby octopuses. In saying hello to a writer who can share the glory of the giant Pacific octopus, she has helped people appreciate these remarkable animals. Your species thanks you, Obeka. As does ours.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott


Eye an octopus, tail an eel at Maui Ocean Center

Published October 12, 1998 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©1998 Susan Scott

My marine biologist friend gave a talk with a book-signing recently at a Maui bookstore.

“I’ll be there,” I told her the evening before. “I’m going to check out the new aquarium first, then I’ll come.”

I missed her entire event.

But I had a good excuse, one my friend accepted cheerfully: The aquarium was so wonderful, I couldn’t bear to rush through it. I spent most of the day there.

The fun of Maui’s aquarium, called the Maui Ocean Center, starts at the entrance. Perched on the shores of Maalea Bay, the building has swooping curves in the walls, floors and walkways, which wind both indoors and out. The effect is remarkably marine.

Once inside, I was completely hooked. Not only were the large display tanks full of prime Hawaii marine life, but some animals were doing things I had never seen before.

One such behavior came from several Hawaiian Dascyllus, or alo’ilo’i.

These members of the damselfish family change colors as they grow. When young, the 1/2-inch fish are black with a white spot on each side and a brilliant bluish-white bar on the forehead. It’s common to see these striking baby damselfish hiding in the arms of branching corals in calm, shallow waters.

When the fish grow up, they lose their forehead bars, their black bodies lighten to gray, and the white side-spots fade.

When I stopped at a tank to admire these colorful Hawaii natives, I noticed one youngster nestled among a large anemone’s waving tentacles. As I watched, other young alo’ilo’i joined in, and soon five or six of these little black-and-white fish were rolling in and rubbing against the anemone’s stinging appendages.

I had never seen this species do this before. I watched for a long time and remembered seeing orange clownfish, also members of the damselfish family, doing the exact same thing. The clownfish don’t get stung by their anemone buddies, and neither did the Hawaiian Dascyllus.

Apparently, when given an anemone, Hawaii’s damsels like to cuddle up as much as their South Pacific clownfish relatives.

Soon after I left the damsels, I stopped in front of a tank of garden eels. My jaw hung open as I watched one fully emerge from its sandy home and hang in midwater.

Garden eels live in large groups beyond the reef in about 80 feet of water. There, they back into the sand, and stretch from their holes into the current to eat passing plankton. The scene looks like a weird stem garden.

When a diver approaches such an eel patch, the eels duck into the sand, then pop up behind you, like whack-a-moles. It’s a fantastic sight, one that for me has been too rare.

But now here they were. Not only was this the first time I’ve seen garden eels in an aquarium, but it was the first time I’ve seen one emerge completely from its hole.

I moved on, enjoying each exhibit. Even the octopus here sat up and stared me in the eye, something that rarely happens in an aquarium. I later learned this was no accident. Due to some creative glasswork in the octopus’s tank, the creature usually faces forward.

Maui’s new aquarium does have some bugs to work out. Fish identification signs are sorely lacking, and residents need family passes to afford this pricey place. Also the superb restaurant and gift shop are off limits to non-aquarium users, a policy that doesn’t make sense.

That said, I loved my visit to the Maui Ocean Center. This novel facility is shaped like the ocean, blends in with the ocean, and made me feel part of the ocean.

There’s nothing like it on Oahu — but there should be.


Folks who harass octopus run risk of being bitten

Published May 6, 1996 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©1996 Susan Scott

RECENTLY, a marine photographer friend needed a photo of an octopus beak. We decided the best place would be the fish auction held daily, at the crack of dawn, on Ahui Street near Kewalo Basin in Honolulu.

Sure, any octopus there would be dead, but that was likely the only way to get a clear picture of the wiggly animal’s mouth.

My friend called me the next day. “Well, I found one all right, but it sure was a weird experience. I had just lined up a picture of a big octopus beak when this guy comes over and asks me what I’m doing.

“I start to tell him. But before I’m even done talking, he grabs the octopus, pops the entire beak in his mouth, bites it off and SWALLOWS it. ‘That’s how we deal with octopuses around here,’ he says.”

“I don’t get it,” I said. “What was his point?”

“I have no idea. He left before I could say a word.”

I’ve heard of octopus fishermen biting octopuses between the eyes. But eating their beak raw? It’s a new one to me.

IN Hawaii, octopuses are called he’e (Hawaiian), tako (Japanese), or squid (local vernacular).

Three species inhabit Hawaiian reefs. One is the day octopus or he’e mauli. This octopus is dusky-gray, or tan, and hunts for crabs and shrimp on exposed areas of the reef. The day octopus grows to about 2 feet long from its head to the end of its outstretched arms.

A similar species is the crescent octopus, named by the student who recognized it 20 years ago. No scientific name has yet been assigned to the creature, which looks like a small day octopus.

Hawaii’s third species, the reddish-brown night octopus, or he’e puloa, hunts on the reef at night. This nocturnal octopus, identified by its white spots, is smaller and thinner than the day octopus.

An octopus catches prey by pouncing on it, then enclosing the prey in the web between its eight arms. The octopus immobilizes its catch by biting with two parrotlike jaws, its “beak.” Such a bite delivers a paralyzing venom from the animal’s salivary glands. Octopus venom contains enzymes that break down proteins, and a glycoprotein (sugar plus protein) toxin.

Hawaii’s octopuses all carry venom. None however, contain the potentially lethal tetrodotoxin of Australia’s blue ringed octopuses, the only octopuses in the world known to fatally bite humans.

Local fishermen report that most bites come from the night octopus. Typically, fishermen wade onto shallow reef flats, either spearing or catching octopuses by hand. In its death struggle, an octopus sometimes tries to bite the hand that holds it. To subdue this writhing, mucus-covered creature, some fishermen bite the octopus between the eyes.

HAWAII divers usually handle octopuses without being bitten. If the animal is handled gently, it rarely bites. Octopus bites mostly occur when someone harasses them.

An octopus bite can tear a person’s skin, sometimes producing bleeding. The octopus sometimes injects venom from its salivary glands when biting humans.

To avoid octopus bites, don’t take the animals out of the water. In the water, don’t antagonize them. If you do handle an octopus in the water, wear gloves and be kind. Better yet, don’t touch.

An octopus bite usually looks like two puncture wounds. If the animal injects venom, the pain is similar to that of a bee sting, with tingling or pulsating sensation around the wound. Pain may radiate to the entire arm or leg.

Venomous octopus wounds can bleed profusely. Redness and swelling of the affected area is common. Some victims experience intense itching around the wound.

Unless a person is allergic to it, venom produced by Hawaii’s octopuses is not life-threatening.

As for the wisdom of, or reason for, eating a raw octopus beak? I don’t have a clue.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean Watch”,
for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, www.starbulletin.com