Meet the giant Pacific octopus
Octopuses are incredible creatures that are full of surprises. For instance, did you know that these animals have three hearts and two brains? And that they don't have tentacles? Rather, those eight dangly appendages are correctly known as limbs - six of which are used as "arms" primarily to hunt and swim, and the remaining two like “legs”, used mainly to climb and crawl.
Of course, as with all animals, some octopuses stand out from their kind... And that's certainly the case for the giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini), which at up to 4 m (13 ft 1 in) long is easily the world's largest octopus species!
In short, octopuses can grow into huge sizes, they display a striking intelligence and can manipulate objects such as toys and open Tupperware containers.
Now that we have your attention, let us introduce you to the giant Pacific octopus (also known as GPO) – the largest octopus in the world.
Living for an average span of 3 to 5 years, this majestic sea creature stands out for its scale: adult specimens usually weigh around 15 kg (33 lb), although larger individuals have been measured at 50 kg (110 lb).
The average GPO arm span measures around 4.3 m (14 ft), for a total that is longer than two mattresses and amounts more or less to the length of a Volkswagen Beetle. But there are unconfirmed tales of true monsters with arm spans that may have been as much as 9.1 m (30 ft).
Most of us will have a mental image of an octopus languidly moving through the ocean with itseight limbs. Although that is true, GPOs are among the very few animals in the ocean that can also move via jet propulsion if they need to flee, speeding up to 40 km/h (25 mph).
To activate this life-saving short burst, they take in water though their mantle and then expel it rapidly via a siphon, a tube-like funnel that has a larger opening on the inside and becomes narrower.
Thanks to this handy trick, they can almost reach the speed of a great white shark (although only for short sprints).
Did you know?
The GPO has a venomous bite, like most other octopuses, although it’s not lethal for humans.
As an apex predator, there isn't much that isn't on the GPO's menu.
Despite its solitary and quiet nature, it's an adept hunter that preys upon shrimp, crabs, scallop, abalone, cockles, snails, clams, lobsters, fish and squid. These giants of the sea can also feed on other octopuses and occasionally even small sharks!
The secret of their hunting prowess lies in their suckers, which allow the octopus to grab and trap its prey.
Incredibly, a single sucker is strong enough to hold 16 kg (35 lb), which is about the same as eight bricks! Considering that every arm boasts an average of 280 suckers, it’s no surprise that these giants are known to be fearsome predators of the abyss.
But the sky is the limit for these animals' appetite... quite literally!
In May 2012, for the first time ever amateur photographer Ginger Morneau captured viral footage of a wild giant Pacific octopus attacking a seagull.
Although it's not the only video of such an attack, this footage confirmed irrefutably that, when feeling particularly ambitious or hungry, the GPO will aim for any available source of food within its size range – birds included.
As a generally introvert animal that enjoys solitude and darkness, after they have secured a meal, GPOs tend to retreat to their dens to consume the food in peace.
Octopuses also have blue blood, although that’s not because of royal heritage.
Unlike humans, who have iron-based blood (which is red), octopuses have copper-based blood, and the haemocyanin transporting oxygen around their bodies is what lends it the blue colouration.
However, they prefer oxygen-rich and colder areas, since haemocyanin is not an efficient oxygen carrier.
GPOs also have, in effect, a total of nine "brains". This includes the central brain in the mantle, but also a neural ring in each limb, which effectively enables the arms and legs to react independently to stimuli, without interacting with the main cerebral cortex.
Indeed these creatures are famed for their intelligence. They have displayed a well-documented ability to recognize faces and their behaviour in captivity can vary depending on the person in front of them, as shown by several studies.
Although they have often been depicted as fearsome monsters in literature and folklore, octopuses are beautiful animals that are considered among the most intelligent invertebrates in the world, with the ability (among other things) to hold tools and navigate their way out of mazes or seemingly inescapable places (e.g., many people will have seen videos of captive octopuses clambering out of their tanks).
Thanks to the power of their suckers and the nimbleness of their limbs, they can even make short work of child-proof containers.
To learn more about this beautiful leviathan of the sea, dive into Guinness World Records 2024, where the giant Pacific octopus gets its well-deserved moment in the spotlight on pp.32–33.