Portfolio: Havergal College Student Treehouse Portfolio


Interview with an Octopus, The Master of Disguise


Learn about the Common Octopus: Its Appearance, Habitat, Importance to Ecosystem, Interactions, Adaptations, Reproduction, Life Cycle and More!

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© 21/10/2005 octopus2

Gracefully, with his long rust-red arms, one of the greatest masters of disguise reaches for another shrimp with one of his eight arms. Those arms – arms that are filled with two hundred suckers. He sits revolving his well-developed head, featuring two large eyes; the eyes that have seen the true depths of the waters and its suspicious habitants. The jelly-like body  is relaxed but ready for attack at any moment. He sucks on the shrimp and his mantle changes a purple blue to show that the taste is quite pleasing.

An Interview with the Master of Disguise 

Today, we are privileged to have one of the greatest NATO (Naughty Animal Tracking Octopuses) officials in the aquatic waters. He has become one of the most well-known masters of disguise and an idol for many. He has generously agreed to reveal himself to the thousands of his curious fans with us today.

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Octopus Vulgaris. © 20/10/2005 octopus2

Why don’t you tell us about yourself?

Well, I’m a male Octopus Vulgaris or what you would call a Common Octopus. I am a master of disguise and I work with the underwater NATO. I have a ring of eight arms (tentacles) around my head that I use to capture the bad guys and my prey. I have no shell, am pouch-shaped; have a beak, and two developed sensitive eyes. At my last check up I was about 3m in width. I also have very keen eyesight, complex reflex action, and excellent sense of touch.  In addition I have something that many are not aware of – a radula; a hard tongue covered with tiny, sharp teeth located inside the beak that is located under my mantle, at the central spot where the arms meet. Want to know something cool? I can actually taste what I’m touching. They don’t call me the "Master of Disguise" for nothing.

What are your unique qualities? What makes you special?

Special? I wish do be modest, however I believe that my fans would be interested to find out some of my unique characteristics. For one, I have been often told, that I am very smart – actually one lobster once told me that I am perhaps one of the smartest sea creatures that he knows of. Not to be cocky or anything but I’d say I’m one of the most intelligent invertebrates. I do have both a short and long term memory after all (chuckles). Also, I used to take acting lessons because as a small octopus I loved mimicking others. (By the way, during one of those mimicking the octopus met Sponge Bob Square Pants, and they still pursue a strong friendship) Also when I am attacked I have the ability to discharge ink - a black liquid in the ink sac, which is attached to the digestive tract near the anus.  One of the best parts of being an octopus is that we have the ability to change our skin colour according to our mood. You see, at the moment I am relaxed and calm, therefore I look brownish-green. However, when I was coming here I toned into scarlet red, because some sea horse ran into me, and even though I know that I am quite large in size some should watch where they’re going.

What is your favourite dish?

That’s a tough one, but I’d have to say crabs because they are the most fun to catch and eat. I spread the webbing between my arms out and stretch until I look like quite large, then wrap the crab making it helpless. I bite and poison the crab and while it is completely paralyzed, I drill a hole in the shell with my radula, and inject a protein into the crab to soften the meat so that it can be sucked out of its shell. It’s a little cruel sounding I know but it's fun food.
I also enjoy lobster, shrimp, mussels, dogfish, and shark.

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Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window

© 20/10/2005 octopus2

Where do you travel?

I travel worldwide, mostly in subtropical and temperate (not too hot or too cold in temperature) waters. Jobs in coastal waters are my favourite but I also work in both shallow and deep water.

How have you adapted?

In a number of ways, primarily through my (already mentioned) ability to mimic others. My mother died before I was born and so I had to copy other older octopuses to learn how to hunt, to feed, to move, and to defend myself. Also I have realized that sometimes the water current is too strong for my boneless body, and I need to use my suckers to not be carried off. However, when under attack, I have realized that the suckers do not provide the speed necessary to escape danger, so I shoot a jet of water from a loose bag of skin covering my body.

If you haven’t noticed, I look somewhat like jelly and this is very convenient because I can squeeze into any space that is large enough for my beak to fit through. This is very important because on a mission I can hide from the enemy where he will not be able to reach or see me. I can also use this characteristic for personal use to catch prey or lay eggs. I work out a lot, so my suckers are also very strong and they allow me to lift rocks and create a personal den.

As I mentioned before, when under threat, I will release a cloud of black ink and darken my skin. The thick ink spreads in the shape of a fleeing octopus confusing the evil predator and spoiling their sense of smell (without the nose, the predator has little chance of finding his victim). This is one of my best tactics - to perplex the predator and then throw a sudden pow and a hit, and the predator is as good as gone.

Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window
Click on an image to view larger version & data in a new window

© 20/10/2005 octopus2

By the way, have you noticed the fact that one of my tentacles is shorter then all the others? That’s because when I was roughly six weeks old, I was sent on a mission to go to one of those aquatic clubs – I think it was Squid Life – and detect a famous shark Mafiosi – Sharkousio (presently serving his time). Even though I was able to catch the evil mobster, I had to sacrifice a tentacle when fighting away with his sharkoguards. One of them was able to get a bite off my sixth arm. Don’t worry though, because the vessels contracted and there was no bleeding where the arm had been torn away so I felt no pain. A few weeks later the arm grew back because cells regenerate  but the sixth arm will never be the same again. What can I say – it’s a tough sea out there, and if it’s not I who will catch evil hoodlums?

How is your love life?

Well, I recently reproduced, which in octopuses takes place by internal fertilization with the transfer of spermatophores, or packets of sperm to the females mantle cavity.

We heard you are quite the fox. Is this true?

I know how to please my women, yes. My mate changed skin colour a lot indicating her pleasure.

Who was the lucky lady?

I met her only a short time ago and our relationship was purely physical. I am afraid she is no longer alive though. You see female octopuses produce a chemical that does not allow them to nourish themselves, and therefore she starved to death. It was a sad but very natural death.

She should consider herself lucky to be the mother of your babies.

For sure, but she was also a good mother. She produced about 300,000 eggs a little longer than 2 mm, which she deposited in strings in crevices in shallow waters. During the four to eight weeks required for the larvae to hatch, she guarded the eggs with her life, cleaning them with her suckers and agitating them with water. She made me a proud father.

Where are your offspring now? Can we meet one?

My tiny octopods are spending their few drifting weeks with the plankton before taking refuge on the bottom. You may meet one; I’m told they look exactly like me.

Is there anything you fear?

Of course, I fear death for one thing. Octopuses don’t have a very long life; it could be my turn any day now. I am also scared of my predators, humans especially, but I am also terrified of the savage conger and moray eels.

How would you classify yourself?

Primarily I would distinguish myself as part of the animal kingdom since I am multicultural, I eat food, and I reproduce sexually, well and obviously I have more in common with starfish then with seaweed. Then I would look at the my structure and habitat – I am soft bodied (invertebrate) and I live in water; therefore, I am different from most fish, but similar to squid and cuttlefish that also have a soft body. Then I would look at my common differences, such as the fact that the I have merely eight arms, while the squid has ten. The squid's "head" has a recognizable elongated shape usually with a triangular fin-like structure at the end opposite the tentacles; while I have a head that is more of a limp bag. Also the squid has feeding tentacles, while my tentacles are all structurally the same. Therefore I would fall into a category of my own. I would distinguish even further between all other octopuses and myself due to my difference of habitat, my feeding patterns, and my physical appearance.

How do you think others see you?

I believe that most would see me in a very similar fashion as the way that I see myself, however, with a little more technicality. Primarily, I am part of the Eukaryotic Domain for I am made up of eukaryotic cells. I belong to the Animal Kingdom, since I am metazoan; two layers of cells in the gastrula stage of development. The next group that I would presume I would be in is Bilateria where most of the animals have symmetry with three germ layers. After that would be the mollusca, soft-bodied, highly developed animals without a backbone and with an exterior or interior shell. The next category would be Cephalopoda, bilateral body symmetry, a prominent head, and a modification of the mollusk foot into the form of arms or tentacles.  This group would be further subdivided into the Coleoidea, only soft-bodied creatures. And even this group would be subdivided into the Octopodiformes, meaning “eight forms” or in the case of the octopus eight arms, and this group contains two subdivisions; the Vampyromorpha and the Octopods bringing to the Octopus category.

Or you can ponder this type of Linnaean classification:

            Kingdom: Animalia
            Subkingdom: Eumetazoa
            Phylum: Mollusca
            Class: Cephalopoda
            Subclass: Nautiloidea (Chambered nautilus)
                           Coleoidea (octopuses and squid)
            Orders: Sepioidea (cuttlefishes), Teuthoidea (squid), Octopoda  (octopuses)
            Suborder: Three suborders of Octopoda – Palaeoctopoda (finned), Currata (webbed),                                 Incurrata (round-bodied)

That’s about all we have for the time. Thank you very much Mr. Octopus for sharing with us a glimpse into your famous life. We wish you luck in your future endeavors with NATO and hope to hear from you soon. I, personally, really enjoyed learning more about you, your line of work, and the life of an octopus vulgaris.

That’s our program today, folks, but tune in tomorrow for the life story of Bertha the Beluga. I’m Suzie Fish, fishing around for the wettest and hottest scoop. Until tomorrow, good bye!

Information on the Internet


(8) Wood, James B. Cephalopods of the World Lecture. Thursday, November 4th, 2004.

(9) Kanda, Atsuhiro, Kyoko Takuwa-Kuroda, Eiko Iwakoshi-Ukena, and Hiroyuki Minakata. Science Direct (2003). Toronto. 10 Oct. 2005. Keyword: Octopus phylogeny.

(10) Sosa, Barriga, K. Backenbach, and Hartwick B. "The molecular phylogeny of five eastern north Pacific octopus species." (1995): 163-174. Abstract. Mol Phylogenet Evol. (1995).

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Author: octopus2
Classroom Project: Octopus
Havergal College
Toronto, Ontario Canada

License: Tree of Life & Partners uses only - Version 1.0

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to , Havergal College

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About This Portfolio
The ToL really appreciates the efforts of these teachers and students. Havergal College has produced some of the first treehouses created by students and we think they did a terrific job. Special thanks to Seonaid Davis, the coordinator of this project at her school, for becoming one of the first teachers to use the ToL's treehouse publishing system, and for inviting other teachers at her school to do so also. Nice work!

Lisa Schwartz
University of Arizona

Havergal College

Sarah Ianni
Havergal College

Kate Rowlandson
Havergal College

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to Lisa Schwartz at , Seonaid Davis at , Sarah Ianni at , and Kate Rowlandson at

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