We’d visited Isla Ispiritu Santos a couple times since our November arrival in La Paz. At Ensenada Grande, we snorkeled along the red cliffs and hiked the 3-1/2hr-long, boulder-strewn canyon with buddy boat, Lorelei. At Playa Bonanza on New Year’s Eve, we witnessed a beach fireworks display from our anchored vantage point. At Candeleros, we discovered the curious clowny-fish who fell in love with Brian’s bright blue reef shoes. But our snorkeling excursion off the north shore of Bahia Cardonal took the cake.
As I slowly skimmed along in 4-5 feet of water, a billowing cloud of sand caught my eye. A few feet in front of me, I discovered a small octopus digging into the sea floor. I’d only ever seen one in an aquarium – what a treat! Excited, I called to Brian “Octopus! Hurry!” Get yer flippin’ fins over here!
We weren’t the only swimmers who noticed his silty disturbance. Several small fish congregated around the octopus, unafraid, darting about like pesky puppies. “Watcha doin’?” I presume they were gathering up goodies flung from his excavation.
Mesmerized by this creature, we watched it for several minutes. The contracted body/head was about the size of my foot, not including its 2ft-ish long arms. (Google tells me octopi technically have arms, not tentacles.) We are not sure what it was doing exactly; probably digging for a clam dinner. At one point, it stretched its arms, puffed its head and tented its body in full, posturing to appear as big and ominous as possible. Then it flashed color briefly to a luminous, iridescent blue. I’m warning you! Don’t come any closer or you’ll get the INK!
After deciding we weren’t a threat it settled down, it’s body turning into just another rock or coral protrusion, its arms perfectly melted into mottled sand. It was camouflaged so ingeniously that, had it not been moving earlier, I never would have suspected its presence. How do they DO that?
Cephalopods, like octopus, cuttlefish and squid, have the extraordinary ability to become invisible. Their talent for color-changing and pattern-imitation is well-known. But such amazing adaptation expertise goes even further…they’ve actually got no kidding, shape-shifting skillz. Devoid of a shell or skeleton, these fine escape artists can squeeze their slippery bodies through tiny crevices, a handy technique for evading predators or surprising prey. Here’s an interesting video of one slipping through a hole in a boat (not our boat, just so we’re clear). Most interesting though, is the ability to change skin texture, something no other species can accomplish.
Real Life Shape-Shifters
Picture that X-Men morphing maven, “Mystique”, suddenly ruffling her cobalt-blue skin cells into that of a grumpy old man. Similarly, beneath an octopus’ smooth, super-skin, mutating muscles allow incredible transformations in surface texture to match its surroundings. Straight out of a Sci-Fi movie. Fine wrinkles and craggy crinkles erupt into rough ridges and sharp spikes or melt into bitty bumps and thick lumps. Along with dead-on accurate color and pattern mimicry, the disguise is instantaneous. An octopus can suggest the swaying of sinuous seaweed, copy the crusty knobs of coral heads and replicate the granular ripple of the sandy sea floor. If only we humans could acquire their closely guarded secret; think of it - no more forehead wrinkles!
Click the link below to witness rare & amazing footage of a shape-shifting rock turned octopus.
Video by marine biologist Roger Hanlon.