OCTOPUSES ON PARADE
BBC Focus - Science & Technology|November 2021
WITH THREE HEARTS, BLUE BLOOD, EIGHT BENDY ARMS AND INTELLIGENCE THAT OUTSMARTS OTHER SPINELESS ANIMALS, THERE'S NOTHING QUITE LIKE AN OCTOPUS. JOIN US ON A DIVE INTO THEIR WEIRD WORLD...
DR HELEN SCALES

BEAUTIFUL BUT DEADLY

Famous for being some of the world's deadliest animals, blueringed octopuses are usually quite docile and spend most of their time hiding in rubble and shells. There are between 4 and 10 species in the Hapalochlaena genus, living in shallow seas from Australia to Japan. They are all less than a handspan in size, and each has around 60 bright blue rings which flash as a warning when the octopus feels threatened. The rings contain multilayer reflectors, arranged to reflect blue-green light. The flashing is controlled by muscles that pinch in a surrounding layer of black pigmented chromatophore cells that cover the blue iridescence. When the muscles relax the blue iridescence is exposed. The warning flashes come before the octopus deploys its deadly defensive bite. Bacteria living in their salivary glands make tetrodotoxin, TTX, the same toxin that makes pufferfish deadly to eat. Female blue-ringed octopuses cover their eggs in TTX to protect them from getting eaten.

SPECTACULARLY SEE-THROUGH

Living in mysterious deep waters down to at least 1,000 metres and with transparent gelatinous bodies, glass octopuses are some of the most elusive and least studied octopuses in the ocean. They've been spotted in tropical and subtropical waters all around the world, usually near giant underwater mountains called seamounts. The one in this picture was found by scientists on the Schmidt Ocean Institute's Research Vessel Falkor (named after the Luck Dragon from the 1980s movie The Neverending Story) during a 2021 expedition to the Phoenix archipelago in the Pacific. Exploring the deep sea with the remotely operated underwater vehicle, SuBastian, the team also found a second glass octopus.Footage of the two animals was a big hit on the internet.

Golden flecks visible on the webs between the octopus's arms are pigmented chromatophores. Their function in dark waters is not obvious, and they may just be something the species inherited from ancestors. The only other non-transparent parts are the eyes, optic nerve and digestive tract.

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