I’ve owned fourteen octopuses over the years, and the most depressing part of bonding with these incredibly intelligent animals is their short life span. My local ones only live for about a year. I once stretched one’s life span out to 18 months by severely restricting its calorie intake, but I felt guilty about that and now just let their natural longevity take its course.
Native to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the blue-ringed octopus’ life span is only about two years. But it could end yours in a matter of minutes.
Like many poisonous animals, including pufferfish and poison dart frogs, the blue-ringed does not create its own toxin. It accumulates it from the bacteria in the food it eats. The octopus is immune to its prey’s toxin, and actually preserves this toxic bacterial brew and stores it in its salivary glands (while puffers store it in their organs, and dart frogs store it in their skin).
In spite of its extremely competent offensive weaponry, this octopod is just as shy and reclusive as any other species. It’s mainly diurnal, hiding in caves or burrowing under the sand during the night, and cautiously comes out to hunt during the day. It feeds mainly on crabs and other crustaceans, using the parrot-like beak to inject the poison that will paralyze the prey as the meat is sucked out of the crab’s shell.
This is an extremely docile animal. Injuries and deaths occur only when the mollusk is captured. Otherwise it is content to hunker down in a crevice and hide. Most fatalities occur when a diver or beachcomber becomes enamored by the coloration of this animal and attempts to bring it home, sometimes stuffing it into their wetsuits, and then you’re dead. But this leads to the myth that the beak is so powerful that it can bite through a wetsuit, which it can’t.
The blue-ringed octopus isn’t always defined by the blue ringed spots on its body. These only appear when it’s threatened. Normally this animal is mottled tan.
Like other species of animals harboring tetrodotoxin, there is no cure. The bite of this cephalopod is usually painless, but within ten minutes you'll experience a numbness around the face, nausea and vomiting, and then total respiratory failure. Death normally occurs within 30 minutes.
There's a Simpson's episode where Homer eats a toxic pufferfish, and they get the tetrodoxin symptoms right. If you get bitten, even if you’re taken to the hospital, if you survive 24 hours you’ll be ok. Heart massage is the only treatment in most cases, and it doesn’t always work. Watch the whole episode.
Other diaries in this series can be found here.
My other octopus stuff can be found below: