The octopus often conjures up images of squeezing victims to death in one of his eight long tentacled arms. Despite the reputation, he's actually a shy invertebrate. The Atlantic Ocean hosts several varieties of octopus, including the common octopus and Caribbean reef octopus, and there are more than 200 species worldwide.
Meet the Octopus
Octopuses vary in size, ranging from as small as 2 inches across to as large as 32 feet. Despite the vast range in size, octopuses share many of the same characteristics. No matter how large or small, his body is in a muscular organ -- a mantle -- that contains an ink sac, viscera and small bit of shell. His skin is speckled with cells, or chromatophores, containing either yellow, brown, red or black pigment, which he uses to camouflage himself. His mouth is beaked, found on the lower portion of his body and contains a toothed tongue. Each arm has a row or two of suckers, sensitive enough to distinguish taste and texture. Though his eyes are keen and able to detect color, he can't hear. The octopus has a highly-developed brain, giving him the ability to learn quickly.
In addition to the Atlantic Ocean, home for Octopus vulgaris, or the common octopus, is the Mediterranean Sea and waters surrounding Japan. Tropical, subtropical and temperate waters provide the ideal habitat. He lives in coastal waters and the upper portion of the continental shelf, reaching depths of between 300 and 450 feet. Including his arms, he ranges 1 to 3 feet across. The female of the species finds sheltered spaces such as holes and crevices to make a home, protecting it with found objects, such as stones and shells. The common octopus prefers his own company and is territorial, straying from his den at night to look for food. His life is short, maxing out around 18 months.
Caribbean Reef Octopus
The warm waters of the western Atlantic Ocean are suitable for the Caribbean Reef Octopus, or Octopus briareus. He's also found in the southeastern United States, the Bahamas, the Caribbean islands, western Central America and northern South America. The shallow waters he prefers provide coral reefs, sea grass beds and rocks that provide good hiding places. He'll change color to blend in, including taking on a brown tone or an iridescent green or red, if conditions demand. Like the common octopus, he prefers to live life on his own. Usually he grows to between 15 to 20 inches across, though he may reach a bit over 3 feet. He's a lazy hunter, preferring to hang out in his lair looking for crabs and shrimps to come by around dawn or dusk. However, if it's a slow day, he'll venture out to hunt for his supper.
The brown-striped octopus, or Octopus burryi, is found in the Atlantic Ocean, from the U.S. to Brazil and Africa. He's a mysterious creature because he lives in the lower depths of the sea. The white-spotted octopus has the "classic" octopus look, sporting reddish skin and white spots. However, he doesn't have to keep that red cast -- he can change color to camouflage himself when he needs to. He's found in coral reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans.
- Animal Diversity Web: Octopus Vulgaris
- World Association of Zoos and Aquariums: Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris)
- Animal Diversity Web: Octopus Briareus
- Marine Biology Laboratory: Biological Bulletin Online: A Convincing Mimic: Scientists Report Octopus Imitating Flounder in the Atlantic
- Animal Planet: Octopus
- FAO Species Catalogue Vol. 3. Cephalopods of The World An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Species of Interest to Fisheries
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums: White-Spotted Octopus
- Marine and Freshwater Products Handbook, Roy E. Martin, et al
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images