The other day at work, a reader brought in a picture she had snapped of an octopus she had found washed up on Old Hunstanton beach, on the North Norfolk coast last weekend. Although dead, she was keen to know what type of octopus it was and how it had come to be there. After investigating and speaking to staff from the local Sea Life Centre, I discovered it was the lesser octopus – a type common to UK waters but rarely found washed up on our beaches. The display manager, Kieran Copeland, of Hunstanton Sea Life Centre, suspected the creature had died in the water and been washed up afterwards.
Angela Rudd, another member of staff from the centre, started to tell me all about the octopus in general and fascinated me with talk of the creature’s intelligence and ability to learn – I had to do some background reading to learn more.
I found the following information very interesting and helpful – there is plenty more on the website if you have the inclination to read on.
An octopus’s brain is proportionally as large as some birds’ and mammals’ brains. It displays a high level of organization in order to do things like coordinate all of the chromataphores’ color changes. The brain is only part of the story though. Three-fifths of the octopus’s nerves are distributed throughout its eight arms
Octopus arms are incredibly strong and flexible. Made almost entirely of muscle, the arms possess the strength to wrestle sharks and to break through Plexiglas. And without those pesky bones and joints (like ours) to limit movement, the arms have an almost infinite range of motion. And yet the octopus can even mimic a human arm by making its arms semi-rigid and bending them in precise places.
In addition, recent research suggests those arms may have minds of their own. Studies indicate that octopus arms each have their own independent nervous system. Essentially this means that the brain can give a quick assignment to the arm and then not have to think about it anymore. Scientists tested this by severing the nerves in the arms from other nerves in the body and brain and then tickling the arms. Amazingly, the arms responded to the tickling just as they would in a healthy octopus.
And for this final video – I recommend you put it on silent because the American commentary is more than just slightly annoying and fast forward to around two minutes in to witness the true power of the Giant Pacific Octopus.