The Suitcase Lady


April 19, 2016, 10:02 pm

Inky the octopus made a brilliant nighttime escape from his aquarium a few months ago. Leaving his tank-mate Blotchy behind, he oozed through a small crack at the top of his tank, navigated 8 feet across the floor, stuffed his soccer ball sized body through a drain hole and careened down a 164 foot long drain pipe into the Pacific Ocean.

The manager of the New Zealand aquarium that was Inky’s former home said, “Didn’t even leave a message.”

The news of Inky’s escape spread around the world but came as no surprise to admirers of Cephalopoda. That class of animals are characterized by their Houdini-like skills.

Many years ago I did research on octopuses while writing a program on ocean creatures for elementary school children. I became an immediate octopus groupie.

These amazing invertebrates have complex brains and excellent eyesight. Combined with refined defense mechanisms, octopuses have a full arsenal to enable them to escape predators.

Their first line of defense is to jet away from danger by expelling water from their mantles. Gone is that lazy looking creature we see floating around in captivity.

Most everyone knows that an octopus can release a cloud of black ink to confuse a predator. What is less known is that the ink has substances that dull the attackers sense of smell making the octopus harder to track.

Octopus are also superb camouflage experts. In 0.3 seconds they can change color and create patterns to blend into any background. They can also alter their body shape to mimic venomous or dangerous ocean species such as sea snakes.

When not out hunting prey and protecting themselves from being somebody’s dinner, octopus retreat to their dens. A den can be a shell or a crevice in a rock. More creative dens come from people’s litter….cans, bottles, pieces from shipwrecks.

Multiple marine biologists have performed experiments in attempts to measure octopus IQ’s. I chose one of these experiments to simulate for my young students. I put a plastic crab in a glass jar and screw on the lid. We pretend the jar is placed in an aquarium tank. My octopus puppet swims over and finds the jar with its favorite dinner inside. Its  arms start checking out the jar, and then the octopus unscrews the lid and pulls out the crab. How can any kid not like an animal with a super bag of tricks as well as three hearts and blue blood?

Check out this delightful video from the Montery Bay Aquarium entitled, “Why We’re Suckers for the Giant Pacific Octopus”.


1 Comment for this entry

  • Maureen

    Your post is SO timely! I just started reading Sy Montgomery’s “Soul Of An Octopus.” What an amazing book.