Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Octopus Takes a Stroll: tide pool visitors see mollusk on the march

Marine researchers and aquarists are familiar with the amazing abilities that the octopus has up its sleeve . . . or tentacle. As a mollusk, or more specifically, a cephlapod, the octopus does not have a bony skeleton and this allows it to crawl through the tiniest of cracks and inhabit seemingly cramped quarters from small crevices to discarded teapots to even soda and beer bottles. This skill can be a source of frustration for aquarists as the clever octopus is notorious for seeking out and escaping from its aquarium exhibit through the tiniest of spaces.

Add to that, it's incredible camouflage ability, changing not only its color but the very texture of its skin to match its surroundings. Try doing that, guys, the next time your told to take out the garbage. The one thing that ties these two skills together - as an escape artist and camouflage expert - is the octopus' inherent shyness.

However, for a group of tide pool watchers at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach, south of San Francisco, one bold eight-armed cephlapod decided to be adventurous and go for a walk, literally. A popular YouTube video captures an octopus exiting the water and moving over the sea grass and algae-covered rocks at low tide. Carrying a crab which it later discarded, perhaps to aid in a hastier retreat, the octopus actually walks in a very wide circle, heading back into the water to nearly the exact same spot from where it came.

Although not that uncommon for shoreline octopuses to move from one tide pool to another, it's still fascinating to watch because you can see its arms not only pulling itself along but also pushing its body upwards, acting like strong legs. And you can get a sense it is looking around to get its bearings, seeing where it wants to go and how to get back to the water. All very deliberate-looking in its movements and direction. And all taking place with an enthralled crowd watching and snapping pictures.

One commenter on YouTube had the right idea, suggesting the octopus came from the sea to present an offering of goodwill. "We mean you no harm. Here's a crab. Now go. And leave us in peace."

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