(Drawing: Vicente García R.)
What self-respecting beachcomber has not caught an octopus, followed its trail of shells and stones left behind in shallow pools of water, unexpectedly spotting him sticking out of his cave, staring right at you, and feeling how its suckers attach themselves to your arm when you catch it. Anyone who has walked among the rocks and seashells of Las Canteras beach has had these fantasies at one time or another. Today, it is difficult to let your imagination run away with you because there are few of these lovely cephalopods left in our coastal waters. They will disappear completely one day because of the complacency of man and the build-up of sand covering its lairs and food sources..
The octopus is a cephalopod mollusk with a soft body and a well-developed brain. It is said that the octopus is highly intelligent and that it is able to distinguish colours and shapes. Octopuses are infamous for their cannibalism as they eat one another, especially during the reproductive period. They have eight arms each with two rows of suction cups. Underneath their body is their fearsome parrot-like beak, which has only one tooth and is used for eating. Its bite can cause a lot of pain. The size of the octopus depends on what it eats. Octopuses are bigger in areas with abundant sources of food. They feed on crustaceans, little fish and mollusks. On the other hand, octopuses are the favourite food of moray eels. Octopuses have big eyes and excellent vision.
When octopuses feel threatened, they change colour and shape. They can also move quickly. Another form of self protection is the ink that they eject and hide in. Octopuses spend their lives in caves, rocks and crevices.
One of the most amazing phases in an octopus’ life (which lasts approximately one year) is the period of reproduction.
The male octopus fertilizes the eggs in the female’s reproductive cavity. From that moment on, the mother will search for a cave in which to take shelter. In this cave the female will stick strips of eggs to the ceiling in a kind of gelatine cluster. These vertical bunches can contain up to 1,000 eggs of approximately 6 mm. in length. One female octopus can lay 100,000 to 400,000 eggs within two weeks.
For a period of approximately three months, the mother lives only to take care of her eggs, driving away any predators.. In the meantime, she cleans the external surfaces of the eggs, covering them with the powerful suction cups on her arms in order to keep them free of impurities and vegetation. She also uses the siphons to shoot thin streams of water between the rows of eggs, removing any particles of dirt that could harm them.
The dedication of the mother is such, that, during these three months, she will never leave the cave, not even to nourish herself. After this time, the baby octopuses will hatch and the mother, weak and undernourished, will die. Most baby octopuses do not reach adulthood.
Translation: Students from the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting, University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.