Octopuses: Eight-Armed Einsteins of the Deep

Octopuses are one of the planet’s most unique animals—but only now are people awakening to just how amazing and worthy of our protection they are.

Octopuses are playful, resourceful, and inquisitive. Some species cuddle with one another, while others have been known to bond with humans. They are among the most highly evolved invertebrates and are considered by many biologists to be the most intelligent. They possess long-term and short-term memories, similar to vertebrates, and pass their personality traits on to their offspring.

What else do octopuses have going for them?

They’re great escape artists.

There have been dozens of reports of octopuses who have sneaked out of tight spaces, and most recently, the world was captivated by Inky’s daring story. Inky was an octopus living at a New Zealand aquarium who reportedly made his dash for freedom when the lid of his enclosure was left slightly ajar one night. Inky, a common New Zealand octopus, is believed to have climbed out of his tank, fallen to the floor, and slid across the aquarium floor to a drainpipe. He then dropped 164 feet through the drainpipe to freedom in the sea. Learn more fascinating facts and read inspiring stories about animals like octopuses in the bestselling book Animalkind.

Remember: Life in a tank is no life at all for sensitive, intelligent octopuses. Octopuses like Inky are capable of complex thought processes, have long-term memories, use tools, learn through observation, and even have the capacity to feel bored. His bold escape should send a message to aquariums to keep their tentacles off octopuses for good.

But octopuses don’t just jailbreak from aquariums. They know when they are in trouble and want out. Like Inky, this clever octopus made a brave escape for his natural ocean home through a tiny crack in a boat:

Houdini had nothing on our eight-legged friends.

They are genetic marvels.

A study in the journal Nature showed that the octopus has about 10,000 more genes than humans, for a total of 33,000—an expansion due in part to new, novel genes that help octopuses survive.

Octopus in open ocean©iStock.com/oceanbodhi

They are wily.

The larger Pacific striped octopus has cooked up an ingenious way of getting a meal. Upon spying a shrimp, the octopus gets close enough to tap the crustacean on the opposite side of the body so the startled shrimp jumps into the octopus’s arms.

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They’re Fifty Shades of Grey fans.

Most male octopuses practice safe sex—keeping their distance because females tend to eat partners who get too close. But not the larger Pacific striped octopuses: They grasp each other’s arms sucker to sucker and mate beak to beak in a frenzy that scientists have described as “rough sex.”


They’re 50 shades of gray … literally.

Octopuses change the color of their skin both for camouflage and communication. They also alter the position of their muscles to change their skin’s texture—a skill they use to masquerade as seaweed or rocks.


They use tools.

Veined octopuses were spotted off Indonesia tiptoeing with stacks of upturned coconut shells clutched beneath them and then turning their booty into portable hideouts. First, though, they flushed the mud from them. A clean house is a happy house, after all.

They feel pain.

Of eating an octopus alive, Dr. Jennifer Mather, an expert on cephalopods and a psychology professor at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, says, “[T]he octopus, which you’ve been chopping to pieces, is feeling pain every time you do it. It’s just as painful as if it were a hog, a fish, or a rabbit, if you chopped a rabbit’s leg off piece by piece. So it’s a barbaric thing to do to the animal.”

They smile for the camera.

An octopus named Rambo not only learned how to take photos, he also mastered the camera after just three attempts. “That’s faster than a dog,” said a staffer at the New Zealand aquarium where Rambo is kept. “Actually it’s faster than a human in some instances.”

They don’t like to be fenced in.

Confined to a tank in an aquarium in Santa Monica, California, just a few feet from the ocean, a tiny footlong two-spotted octopus managed to disassemble a valve at the top of her tank and release hundreds of gallons of water, flooding the surrounding exhibits and offices. Think she was trying to tell aquarium officials something?

They have good aim.

Otto, an octopus being held in a German aquarium, alleviated his boredom by squirting water onto a light above his tank, short-circuiting the lights in the entire building. He has also entertained himself by juggling hermit crabs, throwing rocks at the glass of his tank, and “redecorating” his tank by moving everything around.


They never give up.

Sid, yet another captive octopus, managed to escape from his tank in New Zealand multiple times. He even hid in a drain for five days. Happily, his persistence paid off: The aquarium finally released him back into the ocean.

Be a Cephalopod’s Pal!

In September 2016, PETA went inside restaurants in Los Angeles that mutilate and serve live animals. Watch the horrific, live-animal eating video here, and then take action for octopuses:

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind