Home on the Road: This Octopus Just Loves Life in a Shell
Is this the original RVer? The veined or “coconut” octopus’s home is wherever it puts down its, well, shell. And we’re glad to announce there’s one parked in our Tentacles exhibit right now.
But it’s not just a coconut shell that this cephalopod settles down in. Our Curator of Husbandry Operations, Paul Clarkson, says that the veined octopus (Amphioctopus marginatus) will “pick up anything at its disposal” to make a home on the road. This includes old cans, bottles, boots, shells and yes—coconuts. In fact, it’s proud to take up residence in any recently foreclosed property on the ocean floor. It’s all home as far as this cephalopod is concerned.
It could just be the ultimate recycler.
Paul was recently part of a trip to the Philippines, and his sole goal was to collect this curious cephalopod. The trip was organized by the California Academy of Sciences, which also happens to be the only other aquarium in the U.S. to have displayed them.
The dive site was near an old pier, which—unfortunately for the ocean, but perhaps not so much for the octopus—was rife with trash. He said they would often find the animals closed up in clam shells, with just their eyes poking out, surveying the scene. If spooked, Paul said, the octopus would “just duck down and close up the shell.” To move, it would pick up the shell and just hit the road.
This made life easy for the scientists on the trip. “To collect these octopuses, we would just take the whole house, with the animal inside. It was good for them, and easy for us.” The shell also furnished first-class accommodations on the flight to California.
Paul found that, if he was patient, the octopuses were quite sociable. “If we just sat still, with a crab or other prey, they would come right over and eat out of our hands.”
About the veined octopus
The veined octopus is found in Indo-Pacific waters, has a fist-sized body and lives to be a year old. Common prey items include crustaceans and small fishes.
You can find it in our Tentacles exhibit, in the spot formerly occupied by the two-spot octopus, which has been moved behind the scenes. Don’t be surprised to find this vagabond displayed with some of the junk that commonly forms its home in the wild.
Time for a happy dance! Snoopy now has his own California license plate, featuring an original Charles Schulz drawing. Proceeds support California museums like ours!
We’re halfway to the funding goal—help us by ordering your own #SnoopyPlate
New Penguin Chick Hatches at the Aquarium!
It’s so fluffy! We’re proud to announce that an African blackfooted penguin chick hatched on exhibit June 4, and you can see it now in our Splash Zone exhibit.
The chick, whose gender is unknown, is being cared for by its parents, Karoo and Messina. During a June 10 exam, the little one weighed 6.9 ounces (195 grams). That’s more than three times what it weighed at birth—a sign that it’s eating well.
“The parents are doing a great job caring for the chick,” said Aimee Greenebaum, associate curator of aviculture. “We enjoy seeing them be such attentive parents.”
The chick will remain with Karoo and Messina for about three weeks or until it starts leaving its nest. Then the family will be moved behind the scenes for the chick’s safety; it can’t be left on exhibit because it could accidentally drown or be injured by adult penguins. It will eventually be named, and the threesome will go back on exhibit after a few months.
This is the fifth chick hatched at the Aquarium. Of three that hatched in January 2011, the two males, Pebble and Tola, survived and are both doing well at Dallas World Aquarium. (Despite excellent parental and veterinary care, penguin chicks have a high rate of mortality.) Maq hatched in August 2013 and is on exhibit here. All are part of a Species Survival Plan for this threatened species. The plan, managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, identified Karoo and Messina as genetically important, and we received permission to breed them.
Did cephalopods have the original invisibility cloak? Octopuses, squid and cuttlefishes create an amazing array of colors, patterns, textures and shapes for camouflage and communication.
Learn more about our Tentacles exhibit
Look, but don’t touch! These delicate-looking jelly relatives are siphonophores, related to the notorious Portuguese man-of-war. Each comprises a floating colony, with specialized individuals to sting, eat, or just swim.
Get a closer look at these unusual drifters and more in the Open Sea
The Coolest Animals You’ve Never Seen: How a “Dream Team” of Scientists from the Aquarium and MBARI is Displaying Deep-Sea Cephalopods
From the vampire squid to the flapjack octopus, deep-sea cephalopods come in an amazing variety of shapes and sizes. Yet few humans have seen them alive.
In the last month, we’ve displayed them as part of our “Tentacles” exhibit—thanks to a collaboration with our partner institution, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). “MBARI has some of the best deep-sea biologists in the world,” says Aquarist Bret Grasse. “And they’ve been working with these animals for years. They’re great at finding and collecting deep-sea animals, and we’re good at keeping them alive and sharing them with the public.”
A mission like no other
The first challenge is to find the animals. Enter Stephanie Bush, postdoctoral fellow and expert on deep-sea cephalopods. She combed through MBARI’s database of ROV (remotely operated vehicle) dives, looking for locations in Monterey Canyon where deep-sea octopuses and squid were likely to be found.
“Many of these creatures are not rare in the deep sea,” she says. “They’re just rarely collected.”
The next challenge was keeping the animals alive after they reached the surface. The deep sea is almost pitch black, with crushing pressure, near-freezing water, little oxygen, and sparse food.
“We do the best we can to replicate an animal’s natural environment,” says Bret. “In this case, we used data on oxygen concentrations, water temperature, and salinity collected by MBARI’s ROVs to help us figure out what conditions the animals need.”
When it came to deciding what to feed the animals, the team looked at studies of the gut contents of dissected animals. In the case of the vampire squid, MBARI researchers recently discovered that they use a sticky filament to collect “marine snow.” To replicate this, our aquarists filled a blender with chilled seawater, fish eggs, krill, and bits of moon jelly, creating a slurry that they offered to the vampire squid in squirts from a turkey baster.
Showing an animal that’s never been shown before
But keeping the animals alive was only half the battle—our aquarists also had to figure out how to display them. Inevitably, the animals are exposed to light (even though the exhibit is in a dimmed room) and occasional camera flashes (even though there are signs prohibiting this), as well as noise and vibrations from people.
In some cases, this means that deep-sea cephalopods only remain on exhibit for a few days at a time, before being returned to a nice dark, quiet tank in a back room. As Bret put it, “We’re always balancing the public’s desire to see these animals with what we think is best for the animals.”
The collaboration has allowed MBARI researchers to make new discoveries.
“When you have an animal in a tank, you can see little details in the shapes and behavior that you might not notice in video,” Stephanie says. “For example, of the fourteen flapjack octopuses we collected, every single one was a mature female. We have no idea why this is, or where the males are.”
Stephanie is especially excited because one of these female octopuses laid eggs behind the scenes.
“Before this, no one even knew what the eggs of this octopus looked like,” she said. “Now we know that they lay tiny little eggs on rocks, and then cover them with sand.” Stephanie is hoping that the eggs hatch, but no one knows how long this might take.
Overall, it’s been an amazing collaboration—with an important benefit.
“I think it’s great that we’re inspiring a ton of people to care about the deep sea,” says Bret. “It’s an area that we rarely see, but which is the largest habitat on Earth.”
Happy #WorldOceansDay! How will you celebrate the amazing resource that covers 70 percent of our planet? (Charles Seaborn)
Fishermen aren’t the only ones enjoying the bounty of squid off our decks right now. Risso’s dolphins have also been enjoying the feast! These animals are easily identified by their white scarring, left by encounters with other dolphins—and by hooks on squid tentacles.
Learn more about life in the bay
(Photo: Giancarlo Thomae/Sanctuary Cruises)
How many hues have you seen? This #FanFriday photo by Charlene Boarts gives you a great idea of the bigfin reef squid’s color wheel!