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Happy International Octopus Day!


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Flickr/AlKok

October 8 is International Octopus day (naturally)—and kicks off International Cephalopod Awareness Days.

Perhaps I am a little biased, having written a book about them, but I think these animals deserve at least one day of celebration. Octopuses have some remarkable assets, including eight semi-autonomous arms, thousands of smart suckers, cold-adapted blue blood, three beating hearts and eerily advanced intelligence. And they have been around for 300 million years—long before even the ancient T. rex emerged.

But that doesn’t guarantee they will thrive indefinitely. Right now more than 50,000 tons of octopus are caught each year. And scientists still have little idea how many octopuses are out there in the oceans—or even how to go about measuring them. Octopuses, being asocial animals, don’t swim in schools that can be tracked and measured. And researchers are only just now devising ways to estimate an octopus’s age, as various species—and even individual populations in different environments—grow at various rates and live for anywhere from months to several years. And assessing populations accurately demands this sort of basic info.

Octopuses should be incredibly resilient to external pressures. They have relatively short life spans (allowing for adaptation to environmental changes across new generations) and huge broods of thousands of offspring. And, indeed, these assets have likely contributed to their success over the millennia. They now inhabit every ocean and major sea, eking out a life even down in the extreme worlds around the deep hydrothermal vents.

But fishing has decreased catches in many heavily harvested areas. Some countries have responded over recent decades with restrictions, requiring a closed season and that octopuses be at least a certain minimum weight (helping to ensure they are adults and have had the opportunity to mate and leave behind the next generation). But other countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam and Mauritania—which contribute much of the current global octopus catch—are only loosely regulated by a local government, if at all, leaving the octopus populations vulnerable to overfishing.

So on this International Octopus Day, take a little time to remember these incredible eight-armed animals out in the oceans, quietly catching crabs, masquerading as other animals and occasionally even using tools.

For those who also share the many-limbed love with other cephalopods, here are the forthcoming days of celebration:

October 9 is “Nautilus Night.”

October 10 is “Squid Day/Cuttlefish Day” (or, as the International Cephalopod Awareness Days website calls it “Squittleday”).

October 11 is “Kraken Day” to commemorate these mythical beasts.

And October 12 is “Fossil Day,” celebrating the ancient remnants that these awesome organisms have left behind over the past hundreds of millions of years. (Even the boneless octopus has left behind the occasional “fossil” as a subtle stain on rocks; the oldest known one is Pholsepia, which was found in Illinois and dates to about 296 million years ago.)

If you want to learn more about these animals, the National Aquarium has put together a nice infographic about them. And my book, Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea is coming out this month.

So go enjoy International Octopus Day—and International Cephalopod Awareness Week! I just wouldn’t recommend hugging an octopus. As many a researcher—along with Mark Wahlberg—has discovered, you might come away covered in dozens of small hickeys. From their suckers, of course.

Illustration courtesy of Ivan Phillipsen

Katherine Harmon Courage About the Author: Katherine Harmon Courage is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Scientific American. Her book Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature In the Sea is out now from Penguin/Current. Follow on Twitter @KHCourage.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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