Sunday, December 07, 2008

Kids and Octopus Facts

I was proud of the little bit I know about octopus.

We vertebrates think that we are more intelligent than the invertebrates. Any other living things other than humans which are considered intelligent are monkeys and dolphins. How about adding octopus to the list?

Octopuses kept in aquariums are observed to have the ability to solve problems. Of course we are talking about problems affecting the interest of an octopus. For example: how get to another water tank to steal the delicious fish there? An octopus can figure out sneaking in through a common pipe, had a great feast and sneaks back to pretend nothing happen at all.

Octopus family is single mother and kids. Daddies are destined to die after giving their sperms to mommies. The strangest octopus mating to me, is of the blanket octopus. The male is about the size of the female's eye. He swims into her mantle cavity, breaks off a special tentacle filled with sperms and presents it like a wedding ring to her. Then he dies. The female keeps the tentacle for weeks until she is ready to fertilize her eggs. She squeezes the tentacle the way we squeeze a toothpaste tube to produce baby octopuses. How unromantic.

But baby octopuses are cute from the day they conceived in tiny sacs. They look like miniature forms of their parents. Mother octopus is dedicated to guarding her babies. While many human housewives allow their houses to become messy to the point of shame, mommy octopus keeps her home meticulously clean. She 'sweeps' away all debris. She dies by the time the babies hatch.

I can understand why scientists were so excited to spot the first male blanket octopus alive in the Great Barrier Reef. For starters, the males are darn small. It's not easy to spot something the size of a walnut in the borderless pitch dark ocean with the possibility of some huge fishy jaws lurking behind for a yummy human snack. I believe male blankets octopus are as shy as most octopuses - a trait that keeps them away from human contact. Or, many of them end up in Japanese restaurants as appetizers, I have tasted tiny octopuses in Wagamama which is more or less the size of a male blanket octopus. Ooops.

I once saw a photo of a fish swimming above coral like rocks. The caption says there is an octopus in the photo. It took me a long time to make out an octopus with half closed eyes right beneath the fish's mouth. It has changed it's skin colour to blend in as part of the rock! So think again, a male blanket octopus about 2 cm capable of camouflaging itself in a vast watery frontier inaccessible to most humans.

This was the wonderful octopus tale I presented to my young students. Then I gave them ten minutes to draw a female and male blanket octopus. I went downstairs to sip a mug of coffee, returned within the stated time only to find out none of them has completed my assignment.

One kid managed to complete his drawing but it was a squid. Most of the kids were stuck at drawing the tentacles.

"Why you didn't finish the drawing?" I asked.

" many legs does an octopus have?" they stared at me helplessly.



Mamma, I know of course, otto is eight. I left out the most important fact.

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