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Intertidal Intelligence

Posted by Greg on March 14, 2012

Tag-Team Post by Greg and Alaina

An East Pacific Red Octopus, Octopus rubescens, found near Whidbey Island, WA (Taollan82/Wikipedia)

The octopus: a creature of the deep. It’s just as likely to sink your sub (or was that a giant squid?) as it is to accurately predict the World Cup. What on earth does this have to do with the beach? Well, it just happens to be the smartest of the potential tide pool dwellers! Although we’ve never spotted one, it can be done! The Red Octopus (also East Pacific Red Octopus, Octopus rubescens) is the most commonly occurring shallow-water octopus on much of the North American Pacific Coast.  NOAA’s website states that they can be found from Alaska to Baja California.

According to the Marine Science site, “Extremely shy by nature, octopods are a delightful tidepool find. They generally hide so it is only the most watchful and observant tidepooler that usually discovers this interesting animal.”  The last time we were tidepooling in Northern California, we weren’t able to explore during a minus tide. That’s the best time to spot this rarer find.

Photo by Mila Zincova (Wikimedia Commons)

Octopuses will stroll over the rocks between pools to get food or to flee predators (or camera buffs) as pictured above. If you would like, you can watch one on Youtube fleeing a photographer (although it isn’t a red octopus). Since we rarely see them in action on dry land, it’s pretty cool stuff!

These squishy heebie-jeebie inducing critters are remarkably intelligent. In fact, they are known to be the most intelligent invertebrate, even having individual personalities. Octopuses have good long and short term memory and are even trainable; scientists have found octopuses can be trained to recognize different shaped and sized objects.

Octopuses are also sensitive creatures, so please follow tide pool etiquette when observing them! That, and they fight back: “If you find an octopus in a tide pool, you need to be careful with it. They have a sharp beak that can cut through plastic bags (and fingers). They can also spit poisonous juices at you” (NOAA).

Let us know if you spot one! We’d love to share your photos.

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