A swim in the sea turns into a sticky sit­u­a­tion

When hol­i­day­maker Dave Mus­grove ven­tured down to the coast, he stum­bled across a cu­ri­ous cephalo­pod.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Our Wild World - DAVE MUS­GROVE is the Con­tent Di­rec­tor at BBC His­tory Mag­a­zine with a new-found oc­to­pus ob­ses­sion.

Once I caught a com­mon oc­to­pus in a rock­pool. I was amazed when a black shape un­der a ledge mor­phed into a mass of ten­ta­cles and crawled, very oblig­ingly, into my cheap net. After I’d re­ceived ac­co­lades from my fam­ily for such a re­mark­able find, I re­leased it and watched it slip silently back un­der­wa­ter.

Three years later, I re­turned to the same rocky fore­shore in Costa Blanca, Spain. I couldn’t be­lieve it when, while swim­ming in the clear shal­lows, I saw an oc­to­pus rest­ing on the peb­bled floor. I jumped out of the sea and blun­dered over boul­ders to get closer, ex­pect­ing it to re­treat at my ad­vance.

Yet while I stood bare­foot in a few cen­time­tres of wa­ter, the oc­to­pus did not dis­ap­pear, but rolled over the rocks right up to me. It ex­tended a ten­ta­cle to­wards my toes, which I quickly re­tracted. The crea­ture wasn’t fazed by my ner­vous dis­po­si­tion, but lay in the wa­ter di­rectly be­neath me, gen­tly puls­ing through a range of hues, from gran­ite-grey through to mot­tled-white, rusty-brown and ruby-red.

See­ing as it didn’t seem to be go­ing any­where, I fig­ured one of us had to make a move, so I left. Ten min­utes later, I wan­dered back to the same spot and saw the oc­to­pus a few me­tres from the shore. Once more, as I stood right on the edge of the wa­ter, the crea­ture ap­proached.

It rested in the ex­treme shal­lows, and this time I stuck one fin­ger into the sea. It quickly sent out a ten­ta­cle and we joined ap­pendages. The sen­sa­tion of sucker on skin is a re­mark­able thing. I pulled my fin­ger away, dipped it in again, and once more we com­muned. I was sure not to let it drag my hand to­wards its body, which I think was its am­bi­tion.

Ro­man­tic sen­ti­ment en­cour­ages me to hope it was the same crea­ture that I caught and re­leased, but oc­to­pus be­havioural ex­pert Dr Ste­fan Lin­quist of the Uni­ver­sity of Guelph, Canada, tells me that’s un­likely, given the av­er­age three-year life­span of the com­mon oc­to­pus. He reck­ons it may have been a for­ag­ing site and the oc­to­pus might have been in the habit of check­ing out novel po­ten­tial prey items. Though I es­caped the ten­ta­cles, it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence that will cer­tainly stick with me.

It ex­tended a ten­ta­cle to­wards my toes, which I quickly re­tracted.

Com­mon oc­to­puses are con­sid­ered the most in­tel­li­gent of all in­ver­te­brates, with 500 mil­lion neu­rons.

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