Over the years there has been a lot of talk about the “inevitable” zombie apocalypse, but I fear there hasn’t been enough attention paid to the very serious threat of squid, octopus, cuttlefish, and chambered nautiluses taking over the world. This group of terrifying animals are known as cephalopods, and they have been underestimated for too long. They have the ability to rise up as our cephalopod overlords and yet, the information to inform and prepare ourselves is little. Now is the time to learn.

Perhaps some of you remain skeptical of this threat. After all they look so unassuming as they are closely related to the slow-moving, and decidedly non-threatening slugs and snails. However, cephalopods have been on earth for around 550 million years, and they’ve been biding their time. Waiting to strike with powerful arms, tentacles and suckers. Here’s what you need to know:

We won’t see them coming.

They know how to hide. After all, they’re floating, delicious bits of soft food for a lot of animals. Sea lions, dolphins, whales and yes, even people, feed on these animals in droves. They may soon seek retribution. They could rise up and you’d never know where they might pop up from. They can squeeze through just about anything and they also appear to just pop up out of nowhere.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/q8xJ13pAZNw[/youtube]

Why do they blend in so well? They act like, and dress themselves up like, the things around them (crypsis). They can do this by changing the colour and texture of their skin in an instant, as you see from the video above. They can be smooth, or bumpy, white, deep red, or many variations in between.

The ability to change their colour comes from cells in their skin. Like ink sacs controlled by muscles they can expose different colours, reflective cells, or in some cases, light — to blend in, distract, confuse, or crucially — to communicate with one another. Even more hair raising? They can blend in perfectly with their environments despite being completely colour blind.

Their eyes are better than ours.

Our eyes have bundles of nerves and blood vessels that light has to pass through before reaching the bits that “see” light at the very back of it. Plus, the blood vessels and nerves come together in one area, giving us a blind spot. Find your blindspot! Close your left eye, and focus only on the small dot. Watch, and the big dot should disappear and reappear!

[youtube]https://youtu.be/SZ8nHvb-GJk[/youtube]

Octopuses and squids though, have their cells that “see” light in front of their nerves and blood vessels. There’s nothing light has to pass through, and the arrangement means they also have NO blind spot. Their eyes are also relatively large compared to their body — but the shape of the pupil is different in squids (round), octopuses (rectangle), and cuttlefish (W-shaped).

Recent research also indicates some of these animals might even be able to “see” light with their skin. All the better to see you with, my dear.

Once they spot you, they can hold on tightly.

Octopuses, as their name suggests, have eight parts (appendages) to them which are sometimes called tentacles, but more appropriately called arms. Octopus arms can all be used in searching, probing, and grabbing. Squid and cuttlefish though, they only use their tentacles to grab. They also have eight arms like octopuses, but their additional two tentacles (giving them 10 parts) can reach out further, and are often club shaped. This club end is the only part of the tentacle that has suckers, and these suckers are lined with teeth, or have hooks that are used to quickly strike.

This is a specimen of a magister armhook squid, or Berryteuthis magister. This image shows one tentacle in complete form and seven arms. Photo credit: D. Scheel

This is a specimen of a magister armhook squid, or Berryteuthis magister. This image shows one tentacle in complete form and seven arms. Photo credit: D. Scheel

This is a close up of its arms. Note it tapers to a point and has two rows of suckers down the entire length. Photo credit: D. Scheel

This is a close up of its arms. Note it tapers to a point and has two rows of suckers down the entire length. Photo credit: D. Scheel

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So that’s eight or 10 appendages, every arm (not tentacle) has somewhere between 200 to 300 suckers. That’s a minimum of 2,000 individual weapons that has enough strength that it can tear flesh, or at least leave some solid hickeys.

Octopus hickeys

Octopus “hickeys” left behind after an encounter with a giant Pacific Octopus.

You might hope that all that flesh and sticky bits means an octopus could get entangled in itself (perhaps this would be a means to save yourself — tie up some arms for a quick escape). But no. There seems to be some sort of chemical cue that prevents an octopus from grabbing and sticking to itself. So we’re foiled again.

Not to mention, once they’ve got a hold of us, they have sharp, parrot-like beaks to clamp down with, and toothed tongues to drill. A lot of the food they eat has hard bits and the habit of fighting back, so they have venom to help immobilize their food and more easily eat it. In the case of the blue-ringed octopus, there’s enough venom to kill a pesky human.

They appear to learn from each other

We’ve had evidence since 1992 that octopuses can learn from each other, the first time this was ever documented in squishy animals. Since then, they’ve been observed to solve many other puzzles, and even anticipate future events. There were octopuses observed to awkwardly carry around coconut shells just in case they needed a spot to hide. This kind of advanced planning is pretty impressive in the animal kingdom. This has not gone unnoticed. I’m not the first to worry about the world being taken over by these sucker bearing animals. And I hope I won’t be the last.

I for one do not wish to lose the battle against the possible cephalopod uprising. This is why I will take hearty notice of Cephalopod Awareness Week which began in 2007 by members of the Octopus News Magazine Online forum and kicks off October 8 as follows:

  • October 8: Octopus Day
  • October 9: Nautilus Night
  • October 10: Squid/Cuttlefish Day, covering the tentacular species
  • October 11: Myths and Legends day
  • October 12: Fossil Day, for all those that have gone extinct

These days will be a chance to learn more about these animals. You can visit one of the largest octopus species safely here at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, watch movies, read any literature possible – all to learn more about the enemy, and win any potential battles for the safety of earth in the future.

Giant Pacific Octopus at the Vancouver Aquarium

Spot the giant Pacific octopus on your next visit to the Vancouver Aquarium.

Learn what you can, stay safe out there, and protect each other from the potential cephalopod uprising. Good luck.

In all seriousness, we love cephalopods. Another thing you can do for these impressive animals is to be mindful of how much seafood (calamari) you eat and where it comes from. Look for sustainable seafood options, like Ocean Wise here in Canada, to ensure you’re being as respectful of these animals as possible. You just never know about that whole “seeking retribution” thing.

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4 Responses

  1. A. McKee

    My younger brother was recently bit by an octopus when he was rescuing it from being seagulls lunch. It was really mad when he tried to return it to the ocean, and it bit him. It looks like he’s been badly burned by a cigar. Do you have any recommendations for immediately treating the wound? Or care afterward? The doctors in the emergency room were of no help and it has been about three weeks now, and it’s sore and slightly infected. He was borderline a case study when this happened. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Ocean Wise

      Hi Angelina,
      Unfortunately we can’t offer medical advice via our Aquablog. Another, more helpful doctor is your best bet. Good luck and hope your brother recovers soon.

      Reply
  2. Maya Casanova

    Hi this is maya i was just wondering if i could get some info on this article is it real, or not. Im doing a school project and was just wondering.

    Reply

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