Imagine, snorkeling through the brightly colored coral reefs of Maui, the crystal salt water crisp but warm, peeking at all of the sea creatures, when a day octopus pops out to say hello! The most common of the 76 species of cephalopod in Hawaii, this crazy critter lives in the Pacific and Indian oceans, from the Hawaiian coasts to the waters of Africa. The he’e mauili (Hawaiian name) has a deep and rich connection to Hawaiian history, as Kanaloa, of the four main deities worshipped, most commonly formed as an octopus, being a deity of the sea. An old saying “pua ke ko, ku mai ka he’e”, meaning “when the sugar cane flowers, the octopus appears” referred to the tall cream and lavender sugarcane flowers the signaled not only cane harvesting time but also favorable octopus fishing, typically in November. A super special sea creature, and a super special sighting during any snorkeling adventure!
The day octopus weighs in at around four to five pounds, with about a three foot arms span and is one of the largest octopus species as it can grow to up to thirteen pounds! Colors of these animals range from white to dark brown, with mottle patterns on some individuals and three to seven rows of white spots along the arm pits. The octopus build dens in reefs, rubble and sand, allowing snorkelers a perfect chance for a sighting when swimming through the coral reefs! Octopus have over 500 million neurons, 60% of which are concentrated in the eight arms. The animal has one brain and eight clusters of neurons, one for each arm. Each of the eight arms reacts independently and has the ability to task separately. Contrary to popular belief, octopus do not have tentacles, as a tentacle only has suckers at the very tip. An octopus arm has suckers along the entire length, amounting to up to 500 suckers per arm! An octopus can hold up to 35 pounds with the suckers and uses them to anchor onto the reef or rocks, as well as using the suckers to walk along the surfaces of the sea. Each sucker has more receptors than the entire human tongue and can rotate in any direction or be elongated to twice the normal length. The suckers create a water tight seal against surfaces and have a linin g(chitinous cuticle) which periodically sheds and acts as a protective cover. The octopus is color blind, with each eye containing only s single photo receptor. The eyes will rapidly focus at various depths to take light from multiple directions in order to distinguish colors. These fascinating creatures have three hearts, one of which pumps blood to the body while the other two pump blood to the gills. A incredibly smart animal, the octopus can learn from observations, adapting to using tools or solving puzzles, and also using spatial reasoning to navigate.
Most active in the early morning and late afternoon, the octopus can change skin color and texture to camouflage with surroundings, with the ability to alter appearance over a hundred times in adjust a few hours! Though the animal can change the appearance in a blink of an eye, predators are of less of a worry with the ability to change size as well! With prehensive limbs that condense down and the only hard structure on the body being the bird like beak and toothed tongue, the octopus can easily squeeze into small cracks and crevices for hiding! The octopus also possesses the ability to squirt a cloud of black ink like substance toward a predator in order to escape!
The octopus feeds on mostly shellfish, with a mouth built like a beak, perfect for breaking open shells. These animals possess a fake eye (ocelli) at the base of each arm, a dark oval shaped patch with iridescent rings, which helps to provide trickery to unsuspecting prey! Using a parachute like attack, the octopus will pounce onto prey, spreading arms open wide to form a sort of web. Injecting a toxin into the prey using salivary glands will not only paralyze the prey and begin the digestive process, but also aid in separating shell from meat. Known to eat fish, crabs, shrimp, snails and other octopus, these animals each have a personal and unique chemical signal to keep from sticking to or even eating itself! Always returning home to the den to eat the captured prey, the octopus has the ability to launch things by forcefully jetting water with the object, and will form what is known as an “octopus garden”, referring to the piles of empty shells outside of the den. With suckers that both hold and taste food, the octopus enjoys each and every meal from the comforts of home!
With a lifespan of only about 12 to 15 months, each octopus only mates once in its lifetime. The male octopus will display light and dark stripes to attract the female, as the species communicates with one another by color change. The female will lay strings of eggs along the floor of the ocean, which will be fertilized by sperm packages from the male. The female will guard the eggs for about four to six weeks after fertilization, however the male dies shortly after transferring the sperm packages to the female. As the female protects the new forming babies, starvation will cause death, and the mom will eventually become a food source for the newly hatched baby octopus. Once born, the baby octopus have a special organ developed called kolliker’s organ, which can increase size of the animal and reflect light, aiding in avoiding predators. The average litter size for each octopus is about 700,000 babies, which hatch into a larva form. An extraordinary circle of life!
The day octopus living in the warm waters of the island of Maui brings joy and a sight of pure spectacle to any swimmers lucky enough to say hello! These amazingly intelligent and fascinating creatures are a must see while visiting Maui, and if snorkeling isn’t on the to do list, a trip to the Maui Ocean Center can provide a super special look at the day octopus! Go Rent A Car Maui has vans, trucks, suv’s and sedans to drive to the best of snorkel spots along the coast or straight to the Maui Ocean Center for an eye to eye experience with the day octopus!