octopus great escapes -- 6/27/16

Today's selection -- from The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. Recently, we learned, that Inky the Octopus escaped from The National Aquarium of New Zealand. In honor of Inky's "Great Escape" we bring you suggestions on how to keep an octopus entertained and what could happen if an octopus is bored.

"A giant Pacific octo­pus -- the largest of the world's 250 or so octopus species -- can easily overpower a person. Just one of a big male's three-inch-diameter suckers can lift 30 pounds, and a giant Pacific octopus has 1,600 of them. An octopus bite can inject a neurotoxic venom as well as saliva that has the ability to dissolve flesh. Worst of all, an octopus can take the opportunity to escape from an open tank, and an escaped octo­pus is a big problem for both the octopus and the aquarium. ...

Inky the octopus at National Aquarium of New Zealand in Napier.

"In 2007, the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo put to­gether an enrichment handbook for octopus, filled with ideas of how to keep these smart creatures entertained. Some aquariums hide food inside a Mr. Potato Head and let the octopus disman­tle the toy. Others offer Legos. Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center has devised a contraption that allows an octopus to create art by moving levers that release paint onto a canvas -- which is then auctioned to generate funds to maintain the octopus tank.

"At the Seattle Aquarium, Sammy the giant Pacific octopus en­joyed playing with a baseball-size plastic ball that could be screwed together by twisting the two halves. A staffer put food inside the ball but later was surprised to find that not only had the octopus opened the ball, it had screwed it back together when it was done. Another toy was constructed from the plastic tubing through which pet ger­bils like to tunnel. Rather than probe into the tunnel with his arms, which was what the aquarists had expected, Sammy liked to un­screw the pieces -- and when he was done, he handed them off to his tank mate, an anemone. The anemone, who, like all of its kind, was brainless, held on to the pieces with its tentacles for a while, bringing them to its mouth, and finally spat them out. ...

Wilson [Menashi] was ahead of the curve. Long before the first octopus-enrichment handbook was published ... he set out to create a safe toy worthy of an octopus's intellect. ... Wilson devised a series of three clear Plexiglas cubes with different locks. The smallest of the three has a sliding latch that twists to lock down, like the bolt on a horse's stall. You can put a live crab -- a favorite food -- inside and leave the lid unlocked. The octopus will lift the lid. When you lock the lid, invariably the octopus will figure out how to open it. Then it's time to deploy the second cube. This one has a latch that slides counterclockwise to catch on a bracket. You put the crab in the first box and then lock it inside the second box. The octopus will figure it out. And finally, there's a third cube. This one has two different latches: a bolt that slides into position to lock down, and a second one with a lever arm sealing the lid much like and old-fashioned canning jar closes. ... [O]nce the octopus 'gets it,' the animal can open all four locks in three or four minutes. ...

"Boring your octopus is not only cruel; it's a hazard. ... In Santa Monica, a small California two-spot octopus, only per­haps eight inches long, managed to flood the aquarium's offices with hundreds of gallons of water by experimenting with a valve in her tank, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage by ruining the brand-new, ecologically designed floors.

"Another danger of boredom is that your octopus may try to go someplace more interesting. They are Houdini-like in their ability to escape their enclosures. L. R. Brightwell of the Marine Biologi­cal Station in Plymouth, UK, once encountered an octopus crawling down the stairs at two thirty in the morning. It had escaped from its tank in the station's laboratory. While on a trawler in the English Channel, an octopus who had been caught and left on deck somehow managed to slither from the deck, down the companionway, to the cabin. Hours later, it was found hiding in a teapot. Another octopus, held in a small private aquarium in Bermuda, pushed off the lid from its tank, slid to the floor, crawled off a veranda, and headed home to the sea. The animal had traveled about 100 feet before it collapsed on the lawn, where it was attacked by a horde of ants and died.

"Perhaps an even more surprising case was reported in June 2012, when a security officer at California's Monterey Bay Aquarium found a banana peel on the floor in front of the Shale Reef exhibit at 3 a.m. On closer inspection, the banana peel turned out to be a healthy, fist-size red octopus. The security officer followed the wet slime trail and replaced the octopus in the exhibit it had come from.

 | www.delanceyplace.com


Sy Montgomery


The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness


Simon & Schuster Ltd


Copyright 2015 by Sy Montgomery


14, 160-161
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