Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Dumbo Octopus: Nature's Disney Character

Opisthoteuthis californiana
photo taken by NOAA
Way, way, waaaay down beneath the ocean's surface is a creature so cute that it was named after a Disney character. Dumbo octopi (Grimpoteuthis) hang out in deep ocean habitats around the world. They live so close to the ocean floor in the coldest, darkest regions of the sea that normal human fishing activity does not affect them. Chilling–quite literally–at 9,800 to 13,000+ feet below has given these roughly 17 species of umbrella octopi some rather interesting adaptations.

Chances are that you are never going to personally see a Dumbo octopus swimming around its natural habitat. (Here's a video, so you can do it from home.) This is kind of a bummer, given that these cute little octopi are roughly 8" to 12" long and have two adorable ear-like fins growing from their heads. The beak even lends to the whole "Dumbo the elephant" thing they've got going on. Beyond that, the resemblance disappears. Dumbo octopi are a blend of yellows, oranges, pinks, browns or even blues. They are largely opaque, giving them a dreamy quality as they float around using their webbed tentacles to steer.

Dumbo octopi may be the deepest dwelling of the octopus species, but that doesn't keep them safe from natural predators. Diving fish and opportunistic ocean mammals may make a meal out of a slow Dumbo. It can use its tentacles to jettison through the water, but there's no way of knowing how successful this method is for them. As for their hunting habits, their beaks allow them to swallow their prey–usually worms and small crustaceans–whole.  They just need to get in the right position for rapid ingestion.

When it comes to reproduction, Dumbo octopi are well adapted. Females have eggs in several states of development throughout the year. Males inject their semen into the females, who can store it until conditions for laying eggs on the ocean floor are right. She will use the sperm when she needs it and move on with her life.

You may not be likely to encounter a Grimpoteuthis, but I think it's worth knowing there are adorable little partially see-through octopi floating around at the bottom of the ocean. It really contrasts my view of hideous anglerfish creeping out of the dark to razor-bite the dookie out of anyone who dares venture into the deep.