Giant Pacific Octopus

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The giant Pacific octopus is a huge invertebrate living in the Pacific ocean, but all of this was given away by its name. They live mostly in the north Pacific ocean. And guess what. They are sometimes called North Pacific giant octopuses. People really need to get more creative with naming animals. Anyway, enough picking on whoever named it. These creatures are usually colored reddish-brown, like the one shown above is. As you probably know, octopuses can change colors, and this one is no different from all others. When disturbed it will turn either a bright red or white. When trying to camouflage, these octopuses change to many different colors including brown, yellow, tan, and even light green or blue! These animals, as with all octopuses, are made up of a head, or mantle, with eight tentacles coming off of the head. In between all these noodly appendages is a parrot-like beak and a mouth. These creatures can have up to 140 suckers on each of its tentacles!

Click here to watch a video about how scientists figure out more about these octopuses!

Size

As their name suggests, giant Pacific octopuses truly are giant. In fact, they are the largest known species of octopus! The largest one on record was 30 feet (9.1 m) from tentacle tip to tentacle tip and weighed over 600 pounds (272 kg)! The majority of these octopuses are not quite this large, but they are still very big. Most adults usually range from 10 to 16.5 feet (3-5 m) in length and weigh 20-110 pounds (9-50 kg). This is a large range, but most adults are actually towards the larger end for both the weight and length. Their heads are normally between 20 and 25 inches (50-60 cm).

Diet and hunting

Giant Pacific octopuses are stealthy hunters, but they are not very picky about their prey. They have various hunting strategies which include camouflaging and ambushing their prey, stalking and attacking their prey, and chasing escaping prey. There are many different sea animals that these animals eat, such as clams, squid, fish, crabs, and shrimp. They sometimes, but rarely, even eat sharks and seabirds! There is an interesting way scientists can figure out what giant Pacific octopuses eat, and it is not watching them hunt. When this species of octopus eats, it returns to its den with the prey. After it is done eating, it places the remains (skeleton, shell, etc.) in a pile in front of the den. By examining these piles, called middens, biologists can tell what animals the octopus recently ate!

Some of the prey these animals eat are really hard to consume, mainly clams and other shellfish. The octopuses have three main strategies of eating these stubborn animals. First of all, an octopus may use its tentacles and around 1,100 suckers to pry open the shell. If the prey is too strong to yield to this tactic, the octopus can use its beak to crush the shell. The most common strategy, though, is using the beak to drill a hole in the shell of the mollusk and injecting saliva which then dissolves the meat of the shellfish. The octopus can then just drink its prey like a juice. Yuck!

Habitat and range

As you can tell by their name, north Pacific giant octopuses live in the northern Pacific ocean. They typically live near the coast and not in the open ocean. This limits their range a lot as there is not a whole lot of land in this area. They inhabit the western coast of North America as far south as California and up to the Aleutian Islands, across the Bering Strait and as far south in Asia as Japan. As for the habitat these animals live in, they like their homes to have plenty of rocky crevices to hide in. They live in water from just 16 feet (5 m) deep up to almost 5,000 feet (1,500 m) deep.

Status and threats

Not much is currently known about the status of the Pacific giant octopuses or the threats they face. No major animal species status list has classified this animal under any threat level. They are thought to be fairly common, though. There are no known natural predators to this octopus, but this is understandable due to their large size. One possible but not confirmed predator is the sperm whale. These whales are known to eat giant squid, and these giant octopuses are not much different than those squids, but this is just a guess on my part. In some places, Pacific giant octopuses are commercially fished. In other places where they live close to the shore, human activities can change their habitat to make it less livable.

Reproduction and young

These animals, unlike most, do not have a specific breeding time, and they can reproduce at any time throughout the year. Their peak time for spawning, though, is in the winter. Since these creatures are solitary, they only come together for mating. After the female mates, she will go into her den and lay 20,000 to 100,000 eggs in strings hanging from the ceiling. Incubation can last up to one year depending on the water temperature, and during this time the female will not feed. She spends her whole time cleaning the eggs and protecting them from possible predators. Soon after the eggs hatch, the female dies, and the males also die after they have mated for the first time.

Once the young hatch, they float through the ocean as plankton. Because they are so small, they are unable to eat what the adults eat. Instead, they eat other plankton, both other animals and plant matter. Another consequence of being so small is that the larval octopuses make easy prey for other sea animals. This is why the females need to lay so many eggs. Since they die soon after mating for the first time, these octopuses only live at most five years in the wild and in captivity.

Next week is Labor Day weekend, so I will be taking a week off from posting articles. When I resume on September 10, I will be re-doing old articles. The first several articles I wrote are much shorter than the current ones I write. I will be updating them to include much more information, and I will also be dividing them into sections like my recent posts are. Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is! No cheating by looking back at the first post I wrote!

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Photo credits:

  • Giant pacific octopus – Public domain
  • Giant pacific octopus range – Public domain
  • Mystery animal – MAULI
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