Good (and Deadly) Things Can Come in Small Packages…
The blue ringed octopus is a relatively docile, tiny creature with spectacular colouring. They have pretty, pale yellow skin, marked with brilliant, bright blue rings. Should you get too close, and you notice that the octopus’s skin (like her mood) is darkening, it’s a signal to stay back. The blue rings may appear to pulsate. Seriously. Leave the beast alone, and swim away…
They say size matters. So too does strength. And the poison that one tiny blue ringed octopus contains is enough to kill approximately 26 adult humans. Don’t think that your wetsuit will provide any meaningful protection from a bite. Despite their tiny size, these cephalopods have a super strong beak to deliver an even stronger venom, should they feel threatened.
And for the unfortunate creature who finds itself on the receiving end of a blue ringed octopus bite, death is may not be quick, and it certainly won’t be easy. The venom of this octopus is very similar to the poison found on the spines of pufferfish. It’s called tetrodotoxin, and it is 1200 times more toxic than cyanide.
It works by causing motor paralysis. So while your brain may be fully functional, and your eyes wide open, you cannot speak, nor can you move. You are trapped in your own immobile body. Death usually occurs as a result of suffocation. Could take minutes, hours, or days. Not a particularly pleasant way to exit this world for the next.
Interestingly, this poison is nearly identical to the one produced by poison dart frogs. Tetrodotoxin from puffers is also rumoured to be used by witch doctors in Haiti and other islands in the Caribbean to turn people into zombies. It’s no joke. They say that if you can get the mixture just right, you can turn someone into a mindless, speechless robot that is easily manipulated into carrying out your evil deeds.
Get the mixture wrong, and you kill the person. Never mind, if you were trying to turn them into a zombie, you probably didn’t care for them much anyway…
Like other members of the species, the blue ringed octopus has multiple hearts (three in this case). Two are used to pump blood to their gills, and another one to move the blood through their body. Unlike members of the British Royal Family, an octopus truly does have blue blood. This comes not from breeding, but from a blue copper-containing protein that they use to bind oxygen in their blood.
Human blood is by contrast red, as we make use of hemoglobin which contains iron. While our ability to change shape is severely curtailed due to our rigid skeleton, an octopus has no such trouble. They are capable of squeezing through spaces far smaller than you would imagine. And they are smarter than you think. Perhaps we should not be surprised given that octopus have the largest brains of any invertebrate.
And they know how to use them. Researchers working in a lab with octopus and crabs were puzzled by the disappearance of several crabs from their aquariums. A video camera was set up to capture what was going on at night when they left the labs.
Turns out the octopus had figured out a way to push open the tops of their own tanks. They then crawled across the counter to the crabs tank and indulged in a midnight snack.
Satiated, they exited, and made their way home. Several species of octopus have demonstrated the ability to learn, and even to “teach” others their tricks. They can open jars to obtain food, and one diver reported having his camera grabbed by a large octopus that he appears to have gotten too close to!
Here in Indonesia, these fascinating marine dwellers can be found hiding in the cracks and crevices of tidal pools and in the shallow reefs. They are found in other areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but due to their shy nature are rarely seen by divers. Take your time however, and keep your eyes peeled on your next dive with us. We know where they like to hide, and you may be lucky enough to spot one of the sea’s most spectacularly coloured, and complex creatures.