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  • Writer's pictureJon Bunker

Octopus Vulgaris in Chesil Cove

I blinked. Yes, a pair of eyes were looking back at me from round the corner of a boulder.

Such was the sight waiting for me last Sunday in Chesil Cove:

I couldn't quite believe it, though of course there have been reports of larger 'common' octopus these past few years and I'd certainly hoped that sooner or later our paths would cross.

However, as I already mentioned in my very first blog post, my previous obsession with finding an Octopus in the waters around Dorset made me wary of zooming straight over to Chesil Cove when the first reports of an individual came in this year. What will be, will be I thought, and whilst my four years of patience waiting for a Eledone Cirrhosa paid off in the end, I wasn't searching for vulgaris with any intention (in fact I had the rx100 macro rig, as I was looking for nudibranchs). Nor did I hold up much hope of meeting one until this fellow appeared:

My first encounter with Vulgaris actually came off Malaga in 2009, where they seemed to be a feature of every dive off that part of the Mediterranean coast. I at least managed a few quick snaps with my (then) new fujifilm f100 of these two individuals on different dives.

It's hard not to be captivated by vulgaris.

Some more funs facts:

  • They are the most studied of all cephalopod species, being staples of marine biology stations and behaviour experiments the world over.

  • Aside from the eight arms, they also have three hearts; one for the body and one each for the gills.

  • Their nervous system is an incredibly complex mass of neurons, with each of the arms capable of tasting and responding to the environment around it.

  • Their doughnut-shaped brains sit above their venomous beak, meaning that all their food actually passes through it! Food for thought indeed.

  • Not only does their intelligence exceed all other invertebrates, in proportion to body size it exceeds many vertebrates too. Indeed, their intelligence has often been compared to that of dogs, and the readily demonstrate curiosity and deep problem-solving skills.

  • In November of 2021 the UK government recognised Cephalopods and Decapods as sentient, offering them some expanded protection under the 1986 Animals Scientific Procedures Act.

  • A truly worldwide species, they are found in all tropical and temperate zones.

  • Mating is a hazardous affair for the male, who must get close enough to the female to pass his spermatophores into her mantle, yet should he prove irksome or otherwise unsatisfactory, he runs a real risk of instead being throttled and turned into lunch.

  • If you've seen Craig Foster's superlative 'My Octopus Teacher' you'll understand that mating is the culmination of the octopuses short but remarkable life. The male enters senescence shortly after mating and dies with weeks, the female will no longer feed after laying clutches of between 100,000 and 500,000 rice grain-sized eggs, which she will guard against all predators until they hatch, fanning them constantly with her siphon as she becomes weaker and weaker, eventually dying not long after watching her hatchlings depart.

If you're interested in more, I can thoroughly recommend Peter Godfrey-Smith's 'Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life'

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