Beautiful brown and white octopus swimming in turquoise water.

18 Beautiful Facts About the Intelligent Octopus

The octopus is profoundly different than any other creature we see today. Its unusual appearance has been part of legend and lore for generations, from its early beginnings in Scandinavian folklore to its theatrical appearances in movies today. 

Most of us will never experience an octopus in its natural habitat. Instead, we gaze upon them with wonder from the safety of an aquarium, where hordes of people gather around, staring at the majesty of the eight-legged wonder. 

Octopuses or Octopi?

Two Octopuses in the ocean.
Image Credit: Olga-Visavi/Shutterstock.

The answer…depends on who you ask. Merriam-Webster dictionary claims that both ‘octopuses’ and ‘octopi’ are correct for the plural of octopus. However, some purists maintain that ‘octopuses’ is the only option to pluralize octopus, referring back to the Greek origins of the word.

An Ocean of Intelligence

Octopus in the ocean with legs flared out.
Image Credit: Aerial-motion/Shutterstock.

Octopuses are known for their intelligence. They problem solve to open shells, jars, and even escape their aquariums. This intelligence stems from their large number of neurons spread throughout their body. “Further, in an octopus, it is not clear where the brain itself begins and ends. The octopus is suffused with nervousness; the body is not a separate thing that is controlled by the brain or nervous system.”, Scientific America.

Release the Kraken!

Kraken attacking ship.
Image Credit: N. Steele/Shutterstock.com.

Scandinavian folklore shares the tale of a giant cephalopod-like sea creature living off the coasts of Norway and Greenland, where sailors reported a creature resembling a squid that measured 40-50 feet in size. The Kraken, as it’s become known, has found its way into popular culture and movies, including Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

In the beginning…was the Octopus?

In the dark a light shines on a closed octopus eye.
Image Credit: Joe-Belanger/Shutterstock.

The Hawaiian creation story holds that our world came from the ruins of another, with the “…octopus, the lone survivor of an earlier world.” (Oceanic Mythology (1916), page 15, by Roland Burrage Dixon)

Octopuses are Shockingly Aggressive Hunters

Octopus eating flounder.
Image Credit: Sakis Lazarides/Shutterstock.com.

Octopuses are primarily predators, consuming crustaceans, worms, and mollusks. They use various methods to catch prey, like jet-propelled pouncing, arm restraint, and saliva injection. They can dismember crabs with their beaks or drill holes in mollusk shells, injecting a toxin. Some octopuses, like the Grimpoteuthis, swallow prey whole.

Octopuses Have This in Common With Porcupines and Snakes

The Flying Blue Ringed Octopus.
Photo Credit: YUSRAN ABDUL RAHMAN Shutterstock

Researchers have found that octopus venom contains proteins similar to those found in pufferfish, porcupinefish, and some venomous snakes.

Lose a Limb? No Problem.

Octopus tentacle.
Image Credit: ND700/Shutterstock.com.

Octopuses are invertebrates with soft bodies, making them vulnerable to damage and injury. If they damage or lose an arm or tentacle, the octopus can regrow the limb, regenerating and restoring function.

Masters of Flex

Colorful octopus in ocean.
Image Credit: Alex Navarro Menal/Shutterstock.com.

Each octopus has chromatophore cells filled with tiny sacs of pigment. Like human muscles, when the octopus tenses, the sacs expand, putting pressure on the skin. This results in more pigment visible through the skin. Once relaxed, the sacs retract to their regular size, and the color fades. 

Octopuses See a Rainbow of Colors

An octopus but you mainly just see its eyes.
Image Credit: Osman-Temizel/Shutterstock.

Unlike humans, who possess three types of color receptors to detect combinations of red, blue, and green, cephalopods only have one type.

Researchers hypothesized that their dumbbell-shaped pupils act as prisms, dispersing white light into the colors of the rainbow. By adjusting the shape of their eyeballs, octopuses can focus on different wavelengths or colors.

Not One, Not Two, but Three Hearts

Octopus crawling on shell.
Image Credit: DiveIvanov/Shutterstock.com.

Octopuses have three hearts. Two hearts pump blood to the gills for oxygenation, and the third circulates blood to the organs. The heart stops beating when the octopus swims, which explains why octopuses often prefer crawling to swimming, as swimming simply exhausts them.

Octopus Arms Have a Mind of Their Own

An octopus hanging onto a coconut shell.
Image Credit: Agarianna76/Shutterstock.

Around two-thirds of an octopus's neurons are located in its arms rather than its head. This means the arms can independently problem-solve, like opening a shellfish, while the rest of the body is engaged in other activities. Even after being severed, the arms retain some level of functionality. 

Females Lay Eggs, Then Die

Baby octopus in ocean.
Image Credit: Andre-Johnson/Shutterstock.com.

An octopus's incubation period can span several months and varies depending on the species and the water temperature. During this time, the mother octopus ceases eating and focuses solely on protecting her eggs from potential harm. Once the newborns are hatched from their eggs, the mother octopus typically dies.

The Deceptively Cute Blue-Ringed Octopus

Blue rings octopus. The most dangerous underwater octopus. Indian ocean. Indonesia. Asia
Photo Credit: elena_photo_soul Shutterstock

While all octopuses (and certain squids and cuttlefish) are venomous, only the blue-ringed octopus of Australia poses a risk to humans. At a mere 5-8″ in size, the octopus injects venom through its beak into its prey. This venom paralyzes the prey, preventing it from harming the soft-bodied invertebrate during a struggle.

Masters of Camouflage

Camouflaged octopus in ocean.
Image Credit: Stefano Bolognini/Shutterstock.com.

Octopuses exhibit remarkable camouflage skills, swiftly altering their color, brightness, pattern, and even their texture to either blend into their surroundings or attract a mate.

How Old Are They? They’re So Old…

Octopus standing on its legs on the sea floor.
Image Credit: ennar0/Shutterstock.

The oldest known octopus fossil dates back to about 296 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period. A specimen from this era, despite its fossilized appearance resembling a “flattened cow patty” or a “globular splat,” shows the distinctive eight arms and two eyes characteristic of octopuses.

The discovery indicates octopuses had already adopted their iconic form long before dinosaurs and other terrestrial life forms emerged.

More Ink than a Bic Pen 

Octopus ink in ocean.
Image Credit: Vittorio Bruno/Shutterstock.com.

Octopus ink serves more than just an underwater cloaking device; it also inflicts physical harm on threats. It includes a substance known as tyrosinase, which regulates melanin production in humans.

When sprayed into a predator's eyes, tyrosinase causes severe irritation, leading to temporary blindness and interfering with the creatures' sense of smell and taste. The potency of this defensive brew is so intense that octopuses who fail to flee their ink cloud risk death.

Size Matters

Giant pacific octopus in ocean.
Image Credit: karen crewe/Shutterstock.com.

The largest known octopus species is the giant Pacific octopus, scientifically known as Enteroctopus Dofleini. Adult octopuses typically weigh around 33 pounds and have arms reaching up to 4.3 meters or 14 feet long. 

True Blue Bloods

Dumbo Octopuses with petite bell-shaped body, and endearing ear-like fins.
Photo Credit: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Thanks to their adaptation to the deep ocean environment, Octopuses boast blue blood. Unlike hemoglobin-based blood found in most vertebrates, octopuses evolved as copper rather than iron-based blood. This copper compound enables them to effectively transport oxygen in low-temperature, low-oxygen water. 

Author: Todd Rowley

Title: Copywriter

Expertise: social services, transportation, mental health

Todd Rowley is a copywriter and content writer. He’s an unabashed introvert, an only child with a curious spirit, and a lover of the Oxford comma. Originally educated as a Child and Youth Worker - spending more than 25 years in the field - he also dabbled in Religious Education and Communications Studies.