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Octopuses or Octopi and Why

Posted by Sydney C de Baca on

Not until I painted a giant Pacific octopus and put her on a tea towel did I realize just how many people love octopuses.  

Octopuses or Octopi and Why

Octopuses, you say?  Isn't it supposed to be octopi?  I used to think so until I read Sy Montgomery's lovely book, The Soul of an Octopus.  She tackles this on page 1, pointing out that "you can't put a Latin ending---i---on a word derived from the Greek, such as octopus."  Well, I'll be.  I did, just for kicks, look it up in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition.  It gives both as options, but for me, Montgomery's reasoning trumps the old "octopi."  Not to mention that saying octopuses is more fun.  

I highly recommend this book for anyone who loves these creatures.  Through her relationships with several different octopuses (mostly in the Boston Aquarium), Montgomery shares some jaw-dropping octopus information.  Everything from the fact that they have a dominate eye they way we have a dominate hand, that they taste with their suckers, and that each larger sucker can hold up to twenty five pounds and there are 200 suckers per arm.  (The math here means that each arm can move the equivalent of several thousand pounds.)  

Montgomery also notes that the octopus brain is remarkable because over half of its neurons extend throughout an octopus's entire body.  This means that an octopus literally thinks with its body in ways we cannot even imagine.    

I visited two giant Pacific octopuses for my design.  In the fall of 2015, I visited the older male in the Seattle Aquarium.  My photo of his tentacle is pictured above and was the inspiration for the upward spiraling arm in my design.  The second was at the small but informative Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles, Washington.  At that time, they had a female who some local children had named Ursula, although our guide was very quick to point out that she was not at all an evil octopus, unlike her namesake in (I believe) The Little Mermaid.  

Below is my video of Ursula, and the talking is mostly our volunteer guide, with occasional questions by my family and me.

Ursula the Port Angeles Octopus from Syd C' de Baca on Vimeo.

And about the stories of octopuses walking on land and stealing fish from tanks and walking back to their own tank...not urban legend!  Depending on the conditions, they can be out of water for 30 minutes, maybe more.  And here is a lovely video and short article in Scientific American showing exactly this.  

If you know folks who get squeamish around octopuses, it's well worth the effort to show them how astounding these animals are.  Be it through Sy Montgomery's book, videos like those above, taking them to an aquarium, or even a mug.  

Their wild otherness is a great gift to us.  

 

 

 

 


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