The tentacles of an octopus are scene clustered around a Plexiglass tank at the Flint RiverQuarium. The RiverQuarium’s newest guest is a two-spotted Carribean octopus.
ALBANY, Ga. -- Clinging to the thick plexiglas walls of its enclosure, the newest arrival at the Flint RiverQuarium is silently plotting his escape.
Octopuses -- not octopi, according to the RiverQuarium's husbandry expert, Daniel Churchman -- are infamous for finding ways to sneak out of their tanks.
"They're the smartest of all invertebrates," Churchman said. "We actually have to keep them in a special tank that has air conditioner foam and other measures to keep them in."
The RiverQuarium's new Caribbean two-spotted octopus, which arrived at the facility earlier this month, is already proving to be more cordial than the octo-tank's previous inhabitants.
"Yeah, this guy is actually being a lot more social than some of our other octopuses," Churchman said, pointing to the new arrival perched on the front glass of his enclosure. "Usually they're hiding in the little holes or are attached to the roofs of the caves we have in the tank."
The eight-tentacled addition to the facility is unique in many ways, Churchman said, and is among the most fascinating creatures floating in Earth's oceans.
Their very appearance is unique in the animal kingdom. They move through the oceans with no backbone, propelling themselves along with their tentacles. An easy way to differentiate males from females, Churchman said, is by spotting a tentacle that the males keep tucked to their sides at all times.
They have beaks like birds, which they use to crush and pulverize their prey and, make no mistake about it, an octopus is one of the ocean's fiercest predators. Surprisingly, they are also highly cannibalistic.
"There's no way we could put another octopus in that tank," Churchman said. "They'd immediately start trying to kill one another, and one would eventually eat the other."
The only roommate that can survive living with the octopus is a sea urchin -- largely because its prickly spines can mostly keep the octopus at bay, although octopuses have been known to flip urchins over and attack them from their spine-free bellies.
Octopuses live surprisingly short lives, Churchman says.
"The longest-living octopus on record lasted about three years," he said. "So they don't really live all that long."
They even die in unique ways.
Females usually die not long after giving birth, not because of any complication with the delivery of their offspring but because they simply stop eating. They, Churchman says, starve themselves to death.
The males are much more masochistic.
"At some point, they begin producing a hormone that basically tells them that it's time to die," Churchman said. "And some species will begin using their beak to cut off their own tentacles."
Most male octopus species die soon after mating.