Tuesday marked the start of Cephalopod Awareness Week, and the date has more meaning than meets the eye. October 8th, or 10/8, is meant to signify the group of marine creatures who have eight or 10 appendages.
So, what is a cephalopod exactly, and why should we get to know them better?
They are not on any conservation lists, but that may be because we simply do not know enough about them. These many-armed creatures have been cloaked in myth and mystery due to their evasive nature, and their enigmatic reputation is perpetuated throughout ancient folklore. (The Kraken, anyone?) That, plus they’re extremely cool-looking.
Cephalopods are named quite literally – the name itself means “head foot.” Just think of an octopus. Their arms come directly from their heads. Simple!
A type of mollusk, most cephalopods are characterized by their abilities to move by jet propulsion and to squirt ink, and by their keen eyesight, beak-like mouth – much like a parrot’s – and high intelligence thanks to a large, centralized brain.
To date, scientists have identified roughly 800 species. (That’s a lot of arms!)
Cephalopods include the:
- Octopus – 8 arms
- Cuttlefish – 8 arms and two usually longer tentacles
- Squid – 8 arms and two usually longer tentacles
- and Nautilus – unlike other cephalopods, they may have dozens of arms and tentacles
These creatures are considered to be among the most intelligent invertebrates and have been shown to exhibit complex behaviors, like hunting their prey, using tools and communication.
At The Maritime Aquarium, our giant Pacific octopus routinely shows off her dexterity by finagling treats from inside a pretzel jar or a Mr. Potato Head® doll during “enrichments.” You can watch them all here. Many aquarium animals receive enrichment activities to maintain their survival skills and keep them from growing restless.
Whether they are “smart” or not, though, is still up for debate between scientists.
Perhaps the most fascinating is the not-so-cuddly cuttlefish. Its ability to mimic its surroundings so effectively, plus lightning fast reflexes, makes it a master predator. See cuttlefish camouflage at work here:
The nautilus, however, is a bit of an outlier from its fellow cephalopods. They do not have an ink sac and are the only group that still has an outer shell. They aren’t heading to the top of the class either – they’re quite simple-minded compared to their egg-headed relatives.
But, the nautilus has stood the test of time. Their origins can be traced back more 500 million years and there have been thousands of species over time. Today, six species remain.
Want to get close to a cephalopod? Our giant Pacific octopus can be found in the Marine Care & Culture Lab. You may even see her working on an enrichment!