Octopus, Squid and Cuttlefish: 10 Weird, Fun Facts About Cephalopods
Cool or Creepy?
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Cephalopods are a fascinating group of weird underwater creatures that are unfamiliar to most of us. After all, when was the last time that you looked closely at an octopus or a cuttlefish? Unless you’ve been to an aquarium lately (such as the California Academy of Sciences, which is a terrific aquarium here in San Francisco!) then you probably haven’t seen a cephalopod lately. And you probably don’t know much about them. But you might want to take a moment to indulge in a little bit of silly science education because these creatures are fascinating, fun and even a little bit frightening!
What is a Cephalopod?
A cephalopod is part of the family of animals called mollusks, which includes everything from snails to scallops. However, it’s a smaller segment of this population. The three main creatures that you know from this group are octopus, squid and cuttlefish. The group also includes the chambered nautilus and an archaic-looking living fossil called a vampire squid. Cephalopods always live in marine water (not fresh water) but may live anywhere from close to the surface to very, very deep in the sea.
Ten Things that Make Cephalopods So Weird!
Here are ten weird facts about cephalopods that you might not know:
1. Female cephalopods can be twelve times larger than males! This is not always the case. All cephalopods have male and female sexes in the species and sometimes they are very close in size and appearance. However, they are sometimes very different from one another! Consider, for example, the Argonaut Octopus, a species in which the male is only about one inch long and shell-less while the female is more than a foot long and has a shell. Strange!
2. These creatures change color when mating. For example, a male squid interested in mating with a female squid may have a colorful patch on his back. This is due to chromotaphores, sacs of colorful pigment inside of cephalopods, which can vary from many colors to a single color change. When the squids engage in the mating ritual, he will turn a dark maroon color while she turns a pale white, almost as though he has sucked the lifeblood right out of her!! Many cephalopods die after mating.
3. Cephalopods have beaks and tongues. I don’t know about you but I find this completely creepy! The mouth of a cephalopod has a beak around it that is similar to the shape of beak that a parrot has. Inside of the mouth is a hard tongue. When a cephalopod captures its prey, the beak and / or the tongue breaks open the shells or bones of the prey. Nope, it’s not the tentacles that you need to be afraid of!
4. Cephalopods have poisonous spit. In many cases the cephalopod can use its beak to break open its prey and then inject poison into it. The poison is stored in the creature’s salivary glands.
5. Cephalopods are predators. I don’t know if that is as surprising to everyone else as it is to me but when I found this out, I was very intrigued. I don’t know what I thought octopus and squid eat but I guess I assumed it was some kind of under-the-sea vegetation. It’s actually other animals. Cephalopods eat crab, shrimp and various types of fish. They also eat other creatures from their own family, the mollusk family, such as clams! In some cases, they even eat other cephalopods!
6. Cephalopods can grow as large as sixty feet and weigh more than half a ton! This obviously isn’t common, but there is one type of cephalopod, the Giant Squid, that can reach sizes of this magnitude. Even at about half that size, the 600-pound North Pacific Giant Octopus is something that a lot of us wouldn’t want to come across in our swims out at sea! At the other end of the spectrum, though, there are some cephalopods that are smaller than your littlest pinkie fingernail.
7. Cephalopods have the superhero trait of jet propulsion! Basically there is a funnel-shaped organ inside of the body of a cephalopod that exhales water that the creature sucks into its body and when this happens it causes a burst of speed. In fact, some cephalopods can propel themselves out of the water. For example, the neon flying squid can glide in the air for as far as sixty feet after jet propulsion before landing back in the water. Jet propulsion is typically used as an escape mechanism and it sometimes coincides with the release of “ink”, which is something most of us do know about squids.
8. Cephalopods can break off their arms and regenerate new ones. You know how there are lizards that can shed their tails to get away from predators and then grow a new tail in its place? The same is true of some cephalopods, although again, it’s not going to be true of all of them. Some octopi have been known to intentionally shed an arm and several types of cephalopods are able to re-grow limbs that have been lost. That’s a little creepy when you think about it, although it’s certainly a good survival technique!
9. Their name actually means “head foot”. That is what cephalopod means and it comes from the fact that these creatures developed heads in what would be the foot of another creature. For example, other types of mollusks, such as snails, have a visible “foot” but in the octopus or squid this has become a head (or an arm or a tentacle). There’s something definitely weird about that!
10.There are some even wilder species than the ones that have these basic common traits. For example, there is the sword tail squid, which has a super long and thing tail that looks like a worm. And there’s the cock-eyed squid, which has one tiny, small, blue eye that is sunken into its body and one huge, yellow eye that protrudes from the body. Gives me the heebie jeebies!
So what do you think – are these creatures cool or creepy?!
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