Become a fan of h2g2
This article is a study in the field of Socio-Biological Economics, a school of philosophy founded by David F. Porteous and dedicated to answering the "why questions". This particular article is the first step in answering the ancient conundrum "Why Octopi?".
In the first section this article will provide an overview of the octopus including how to identify one and in the second section an evaluation of the creature's suitability for certain social situations will be expressed as a star rating.
How Would I Recognise An Octopus?
The octopus can be distinguished from the average person by identification of several characteristics. Firstly, unlike the average person, the octopus is a mollusc rather than, for example, a mammal. As a mollusc the octopus is a distant cousin of the snail and is more closely related to extinct cephalopods like the ammonite. So, if you see someone down the pub having a drink with a snail - staying well clear of the ready salted crisps - or taking flowers to the marine section of a natural history museum then chances are this person is an octopus.
If the suspected octopus is not performing either of the activities described above then it will be necessary to resort to other means of identification. Octopi do not have the standard number of arms you would expect from a person, typically an octopus will be possessed of eight fully functional limbs. But remember - octopi may lose limbs while hunting and may have less than eight, so this method of identification is not always foolproof. Indeed, even if an identified mass does have eight limbs it still may not be an octopus - it could be that you have happened upon a couple in the throws of passion or an amputee five-a-side football team.
If all else fails, there is a third way of identifying an octopus; by its parrot-like beak which it uses to break open the shells of crustaceans. This method of verification must only be used in conjunction with one of the other two above, because it is all too easy to mistake a parrot-like beak for the beak of an actual parrot. Remember - although octopi have the beak, they almost always lack feathers and are incapable of sustained flight.
How Do You Identify A Famous Octopus?
Unlikely as it seems there may arise an occasion when an octopus achieves some degree of notoriety or fame in which case it would be advantageous to be able to identify such an octopus. This however is more difficult than you would imagine.
The octopus is capable of changing colour very quickly, some species can go from white to black in less than a second - a useful skill to have when negotiating any large metropolitan area. In addition the octopus can change the texture of its skin to appear one moment as a leathery Jack Palance while the next moment being a silky Sarah Michelle Gellar. It is not clear what the advantages of such a change would be and perhaps because of this, despite their aquatic nature, octopi are seldom seen in bikinis.
Should I Engage The Octopus In Conversation?
This is a question often posed, since the intelligence of the octopus is famous. The creature has both long and short term memory and recent studies indicate that it possesses reasoning in addition to animal intuition - the basic qualities required for social interaction. However, it is worth noting that no octopus has yet been found which speaks English or displays a willingness to learn it.
Is The Octopus Dangerous?
The octopus preys on crustaceans and other forms of sea-life. Providing you are not a crab, or dressed as one (salad and lemon juice, for example), you should be in little danger from the octopus. Its eight arms, which have two lines of hooked suckers running along them, are not designed to carry the octopus to great speeds on land - which means that even if spooked it is unlikely to stampede.
The octopus, when spooked, will shoot out jets of ink to blind and mildly paralyse pursuers. However, this ink is also toxic to the octopus and if it cannot escape the ink in the surrounding water can make it ill or even prove fatal. A similar situation can be seen by placing four bean-fed hillbillies in a sealed pick-up truck.
When it is forced to fight, or is hunting, the octopus employs its poisonous saliva. Only a few types of octopus are venomous enough to kill a man, and these are easily identified by the speed at which marine biologists flee from them.
How Does The Octopus Breed?
That kind of information isn't really anyone's business but the octopi involved, but since the animal playboy channel (Discovery) makes this information freely available to minors, it is included here out of a sense of scientific completeness.
When a mummy octopus and a daddy octopus who love each other very much want to have a baby, the daddy octopus pushes a special tentacle into the mummy's body cavity and passes a packet of sperm along a special grove in the tentacle. The process takes place at arms length and afterwards the daddy will never see the mummy again. The mummy octopus will lay anywhere between 100 and 400,000 eggs depending on her species and environment, she will care for these eggs, forsaking her own needs, until she dies of starvation. Her sacrifice is both admirable and stupid since only a few from an entire brood of many thousands will survive to adulthood anyway.
Many scientists have concluded that octopi cannot survive on Dominoes pizza alone, otherwise the female would have it delivered to stave off starvation. It is also obvious from the facts that male octopi, if not more intelligent than females, certainly got a much better deal genetically.
Things An Octopus Is Good At
- Winning a "Having Lots of Arms" Contest. The octopus has more arms than any other creature on the planet, except the cuttlefish.
- Being in goal.
- Doing impressions of another Octopus (possibly a famous one).
Things An Octopus Is Bad At
- Winning a "Having Lots of Arms" Contest where all the other competitors are cuttlefish.
- Sustained flight.
- Speaking English.
- Intimacy and long term relationships.
Octopus Potential As: Employee: ***
With its many arms and above-animal intelligence the octopus could fill the role of several factory line workers. Female octopi should not be considered for expensive training however, since if they fall pregnant they effectively commit suicide. Male octopi should not be considered for positions in a mixed-sex workplace, due to their ability to get female co-workers pregnant at a distance of up to six feet, perhaps entirely without their knowledge.
Octopus Potential As: Spy: ****
The camouflaging abilities of the octopus are without peer in the animal world, with ability to become, at will, Jack Palance, Buffy, a couple in the throws of passion, an amputee five-a-side football team or a bald flightless parrot. However their linguistic limitations mean that they would have to be mute spies - which is suspicious in itself.
Octopus Potential As: Film Star: *
Sadly the days of the silent film are no more and though there are roles for mutes in modern cinema most of these go to the higher primates and dogs. On the rare occasions an octopus has been cast in a feature film it usually gets no percentage of the back-end and is often required to work for a tiny percentage of net. There remains considerable prejudice in Hollywood against molluscs, as was shown when Whoopie Goldberg was cast in the title role in The Life Of Jack Palance despite obviously being both black and a woman.
Octopus Potential As: Boy/Girlfriend: *
The octopus is one of the very worst partners in the world, alongside the preying mantis and atom bomb. Firstly, octopi are not very social, and even if you do get to first base with one their saliva is poisonous. A male octopus will, after copulation, leave you and never be seen again - much like the preferred activity of the human male. However, the female octopus will become pregnant and give birth to hundreds of thousands of octo-human children which will have to be supported by the state at a cost of billions of pounds. She will die, leaving you a single father with no hope of ever dating inside your species again. All things considered, pretty bad.