Octopuses: Big, wet, strong puppies with tools – Salon.com

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Octopuses, the eight-armed mysteries of the deep, are the smartest of invertebrates and, in the opinion of journalist Katherine Harmon Courage, among the most fascinating animals, period. There’s enough that we’re still trying to figure out about their larger-than-life personalities, uncanny intelligence and ability to disappear in plain sight to fill an entire book — as Courage has done in “Octopus!“. The book follows Courage as she delves into the wide world of octopus research — and cuisine — to try and figure out what it is about the sea creature that so captures the imagination.

“Everybody asks, once you’ve been working on a book for a while, ‘Well aren’t you tired of it?’” Courage told Salon. “And I’m like ‘No, I could never actually be tired of talking about octopuses or learning about them.’”

Courage spoke to Salon about her boundless enthusiasm for the cephalopods and some of the many things humans can learn from them, along with some mysteries that seem as if they may never be solved. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Here’s the question I’m sure you get all the time: Why the octopus?

My obsession really started a few years ago. There was a study that came out that showed them using coconut shell halves as tools, and there was video, so I blogged about it for Scientific American. I was a reporter at the time, and ever since then I’ve just been totally fascinated, because it’s just amazing. They’re these crazy invertebrates that are using tools somehow — they’re not social, so how are they figuring this out individually? It’s pretty remarkable.

You still blog about octopuses for Scientific American. What kind of responses do you get? Is there more interest than you would have thought?

Yes! I mean, I always kind of thought that they were really fascinating, and then once I started working on the book I was totally blown away — and still, even after having written a book I learn something new every day, and it’s incredibly amazing. But anyway, people just come out of the woodwork to say they’re so excited because they just love octopuses, it’s their favorite animal, they’ve loved them forever… it’s just really cool that everybody seems to have a secret fascination with or obsession with octopuses.

Written By: Lindsay Abrams
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7 COMMENTS

  1. Big, wet, strong puppies with tools

    Did not realize octopuses engage in kinky porn; haven’t seen such a title since the ‘Snakes of the hot, steamy
    jungle’ article a few years back. Sex sells, but such headlines are just plain ridiculous for a ‘science’ article.

    Now to the article about these amazing critters of the sea…

  2. I had a Giant Pacific Octopus grab me once – probably about 10 of the scariest minutes of my life. I was just really worried he would bite me (large, venomous beaks). I eventually got free of him, but he left about 55 bruises on my arm. The other Giant Pacific Octopuses I worked with were much more laid back, though they all had different personalities.

    Their brains are pretty neat – they sort of have mini-brains in each arm.

  3. I had an encounter with an octopus while snorkeling off the coast of Hawaii. I spotted a small purple octopus and it spotted me. We both had the same reaction. We both looked at each other, jumped a little bit and then swam away. I don’t think I could ever eat one ever again.

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