The Octopus: Nature's ultimate shape shifter

by B. N. Sullivan

We have encountered octopuses frequently wherever we have dived, and they are fascinating creatures to observe underwater. They can change their coloration and the texture of their skin readily to camouflage themselves.  Take a look at the above image of a Caribbean Reef Octopus (Octopus briareus), which I photographed in the Cayman Islands. It can change its skin color from a dark reddish shade to the almost iridescent green you see here.  The skin texture can change from smooth, to rough or prickly looking to mimic the surface texture of the rock or coral on which the octopus is resting.

Octopuses also can squeeze through incredibly small spaces, since they have no skeleton, either internally or externally.  We have seen these creatures slide their bodies between lobes of coral that were practically touching each other, and flatten themselves to pass through a crack in the wall of a cavelet. It's a most amazing sight -- almost magical.

I recently discovered the video below on YouTube.  It had no accompanying explanatory information other than its title -- "Octopus escaping through a one inch hole" -- but it appears to be an experiment to illustrate the shape shifting ability of the octopus. At the beginning of the video, the octopus is inside what looks like a clear lucite box.  In the course of the next 30 seconds, the octopus manages to extricate itself from the box by passing through the round hole in the side of the box -- and quite effortlessly at that.

Watch the video and you will  see why we think of the octopus as Nature's ultimate shape shifter!

If the video does not play or display properly above, click here to view it on YouTube.

Hat tip to YouTube user defosterr, who posted the video to YouTube three years ago.


  1. I know they are supposed to be quite intelligent from what I have read about them, but they seem so creepy to me. All that maneuvering around they do, and they are pretty sneaky about it too.

    Your photo is great, Bobbie - amazing how it made itself look like coral.

  2. These are amazing creatures. I find them very interesting. I agree with kml they do seem pretty creepy. I would love to learn more.

    <3 Lisa Anne

  3. I fell in love with ocutupi (?) on a field trip to Kaneohe's Coconut Island labs when taking oceanography as a UH student in the early '70s. They had a large circular plexiglass tank of them that scientists were studying and we were told, then observed for ourselves, how they showed distinct individual personalities (in addition to being very intelligent which Jacque Costeau was showing the world with a great documentary film). They were so was a grump who would settle into one cinderblock (they were placed equidistant around the tank for housing for the animals) only for him to then decide it wasn't good enough for him so he'd move to the next cinderblock, chase the resident there out, and take it over. Only to go thru the same exercise: settle in, decide against it, move on to the next cinderblock, chase out the occupant, etc, etc. This went on the whole time we were there. Another octopus apparently was REALLY attracted to the color orange as it moved around the tank following a girl in an orange top, even to the point of trying to climb out of the tank toward her. The staff had a tiny one in its inhouse aquatic tank, no bigger than 2 or 3 inches, so amazing...would flash more than one color at a time. Truly amazing creatures! Thanks for sharing the video.

  4. Octopi are quite intelligent! The fact that a cephalopod is so smart surprises most people, including me, but it certainly is indisputable.

  5. What a video. I never knew this about an octopus. Such interesting creatures.

  6. I'm imagining Chubby Checkers's "Limbo Rock" as accompaniment to this video. :)


We welcome your comments and invite your questions. Dialogue is a good thing!

Bobbie & Jerry