For those of you who have been following the now 56-part Marine Life Series I’ve been posting on Fridays for the past fifteen months, you are probably aware of the incredible octopus I have named "Violet". (Links below.) Violet is a common Atlantic octopus (Octopus vulgaris). We caught her in January and she has been spending the past six-plus months educating children at my marine biology center. Sadly, Violet is now dying.
Unlike the giant Pacific octopus, which may live for more than thirty years, my East Coast species has a mere two-year life span. This is heartbreaking when dealing with such an intelligent form of invertebrate life. I know that Violet is a female because she lacks a hectocotylus, a spoon-shaped organ at the tip of the third right arm of males used to transfer sperm into the body cavity of the female.
An octopus is a solitary creature and will not tolerate another member of its species near it except for a brief mating period near the end of their lives. They do, however, bond with their caretaker when kept in captivity. Violet was able to pick me out of a crowd and would extend an arm or two to touch hands. They are very tactile creatures. To keep her entertained I keep a variety of plastic cat toys in her tank for her to play with. One of her favorite games was to play catch with her favorite ball. By squeezing the floating ball between my fingers I could shoot the object down into the water, where she would grab it with her suction cups, play with it a bit, and release it back to the surface right where my hand was waiting.
Those games have stopped. When they reach the end of their lives they turn a pale ash-gray color and stop interacting with their surroundings except to eat. In the wild I imagine this sluggish behavior results in them being easy prey for fish or lobsters. Soon she will start chewing her arms off (one is already gone), a nervous behavior typical of the death process.
Violet was the model for my diary on octopus eyes.
Regular MLS diary will be posted Friday night. No entry will be posted the following week as I will be in Chicago for YearlyKos. See you there.
Other diaries in this series can be found here.