The Brainy Octopus is a Quick Adapter to Climate Change, But the News is Not as Good as You May Think

Did you know that an octopus has 3 hearts and 9 brains? These mollusks have complex cardiovascular and nervous systems. Two hearts regulate blood to the gills, and the other pumps blood to the rest of its body. One brain is located in the organism’s head, and the others are distributed across its eight arms. This allows each limb to act independently to some extent. Even limbs that are fully detached from the rest of the octopus are reported to show mobility and sense smells and tastes.

With great memory retention, and the capability to navigate mazes and distinguish between even human faces, Octopuses stand their ground as one of the most intelligent species on Earth. Not only can they camouflage by changing colors within spans of milliseconds, but they can also rearrange their body to imitate other fish species or the texture of the rocks they hide among. These truly mind-boggling cephalopods have shown clever adaptability based on their evolving living conditions, and some of these are telltales of the present and future scenarios of the world in terms of climate change. 

With the astronomical amount of garbage that is getting dumped into our oceans and other water bodies, it is no surprise that these artificial, human wastes are infiltrating the living habitats of these octopuses. New studies reveal that several species of these cephalopods are inclining toward taking these discarded human junk like glass bottles, ceramics, metal pipes, plastic pots, beer cans, etc as their shelter. As soft-bodied and flexible organisms that can contort into really small spaces, bottles especially provide them a comfortable environment that additionally provides safety from deep-sea predators.

However, in recent decades, several octopus species, especially the coconut octopus and pygmy octopus, seem to be preferring human waste as their shelter more than their natural counterparts – like seashells. Ironically, the Coconut Octopus was named this way because of their affinity towards using coconut shells as shelter.

Although scientists expected different results, most Octopus seemed to favor glass bottles over any other type of waste as their humble abode. This poses the threat of injury to these soft-bodied creatures if the glass breaks. The biggest menace to the species population itself is that in conditions where human wastes are scarce, these octopuses are recorded to be competing for these artificial shelters. This man-made situation is pushing its limits to a point where only the fittest of the kind can survive.

Similarly, due to the rising temperature of seawater, Octopus vulgaris, typically known as the Common Octopus due to how prevalent they are found in the sea, might become uncommon in the coming boiling years. High ocean temperature is also detrimental to the octopus eggs. These mollusks habitually lay eggs in shallow regions where the temperature is higher than the deep sea. When climate change additionally elevates heat in these regions, the eggs are maturing in a dangerous environment where all conditions aren’t optimal for healthy growth. To combat this challenge, the clever adults swim searching for places with a more appropriate location for egg-laying and hatching, thereby endangering themselves to predators in previously unexplored places.

Ocean suffocation, meaning the startlingly increasing amount of carbon dioxide choking our oceans due to global warming and the growing release of greenhouse gases, leads to ocean acidification. Marine biologist Dr. Kirt Onthank warns “If we continue on the path we are going right now emitted carbon dioxide, by the end of this century, our oceans are going to be two and a half times more acidic than they are right now.” After an initial period of shock, the octopuses under survey – Octopus rubescent Ruby Octopuses – showed remarkable realignment to the conditions within two weeks.

However, what we need to keep in mind (or minds, if you’re an octopus) is that the stride of climate change every year is larger and scarier than the last. Quick adjustments to unexpected change consume immense energy to let them regulate their physiology. The adaptability of such creatures may reach a threshold, after which point they might not be able to keep up with the race.

References

  1. https://theswaddle.com/octopuses-are-using-human-garbage-for-shelter/
  2. Octopuses and climate change with Kirk Onthank – Youtube
  3. https://adapt136.ucsc.edu/taxa/invertebrates/the-common-octopus-may-stop-being-common-due-to-climate-change#:~:text=With%20higher%20temperatures%20due%20to,with%20slight%20changes%20in%20temperatures.
  4. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/01/210113144507.htm
  5. Octopus – Wikipedia

Published by LakesOfIndia

Lakes of India is an E.F.I initiative aimed at sensitizing the larger public on freshwater habitats across the country. A blog platform where one can read about lakes across India. You can become a guest blogger to write about a lake in your hometown and initiate an action to protect that lake.

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