Marine Biology

The Eating Habits of Octopuses



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The octopus, of which there are around 300 species, is one of the most distinctive creatures on the planet, with its bulbous head, big eyes, beaked mouth, and eight suckered arms (which most people refer to as tentacles). It is a cephalopod mollusc that inhabits many different regions of the world's seas and oceans. But one of the most common habitats is coral reefs. ctopuses eat a variety of creatures and this diet changes across species and across stages of the life cycle of the same species. They also exhibit some rather strange habits such as autophagy, for example.

Octopuses are carnivorous predators, feeding on a varied diet of other animals. When first hatched the larval octopuses spend much of their time in a cloud of plankton, drifting around, feeding on copepods, and on the larvae of crabs and starfish before finally sinking to the bottom of the sea. During their adulthood they will then feed on crabs, clams, cockles, and snails. Some species will perhaps even eat other octopuses. Although seeming to prefer live prey, they will also scavenge dead meat as well.

Octopuses have a number of strategies for capturing their prey. This can involve lying in wait, covered up in a lair, and then striking with an arm or else moving over the prey and engulfing it into its grasp, for example. Some octopuses will move along slowly feeling inside rocks for meals. Sometimes they will capture several prey animals on an expedition before returning home. Octopuses kill their prey by biting them, and thereby injecting poison into the prey animal that paralyses it, even being able to penetrate shells. The animal then dies and the octopus injects a proteolytic enzyme (a digestive enzyme) into the victim, ready for eating.

Whilst octopuses usually enjoy a good meal, female octopuses may neglect to eat altogether during the period of a month or so where they are looking after their eggs. After this they will die. But this is as a result of programmed death rather than starvation.

Octopuses are an intelligent species, and have been known to break out of aquarium tanks in search of food. There have even been reports of them climbing on board fishing boats to steal crabs from the hold. However, perhaps the most worrying feeding behaviour of octopuses is that of autophagy. This is an abnormal behaviour in which the animal eats its own arms. This damaging behaviour is caused by a neurological disorder, resulting from a viral infection, rather than any kind of desperate hunger.

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