You leave the harbor with salt already caking your hair. As the small motor boat tasked with bringing you off the coast speeds into the waves, you catch one last glimpse of dry land before becoming fully surrounded by a seemingly never-ending expanse of ocean water. Finally, the boat putters to a stop, and you slip into your wetsuit and pull the oxygen tube into your mouth. You look up and fall backwards, allowing yourself to drift down away from the known and into a new world where weight is suspended and light does not touch. Welcome, you have entered the kingdom of the cephalopod, and I am your convivial guide. Cephalopods are members of the molluscan class cephalopoda—molluscan meaning they are invertebrates, amongst other characteristics. There are over 800 living species of cephalopods today, but 1,700 including those that went extinct. I love cephalopods for the sheer diversity of their members. For now, we will be exploring seven of these individuals, though I encourage you to continue your research beyond our time today.
Rossia Pacifica Cuttlefish
Our first tentacled friend is the Rossia pacifica, also known as the stubby squid (though it is actually more closely related to cuttlefish—we’ll get to those later). This little fella extends no more than ten centimeters—including its tentacles! It has ten tentacles, two of which are significantly longer than the other eight. To protect itself, the stubby squid produces mucus and envelopes itself in a sort of “jello” cover, Nickelodeon slime-style. Additionally, one of its most noticeable features is its two bulbous googly eyes which give them a cartoon-character-type face. Shake up some of the sand below you, and we'll be able to see them more clearly.
Southern Pygmy Squid
The southern pygmy squid is the smallest cephalopod, with the largest females being only around two-and-a-half centimeters long. If you’ve ever wished that you could stick to your house, be jealous of these little fellas. Glue glands along their body allow them to stick to seagrass leaves and hide from predators and other scary things. They’re also also vicious hunters, and they prey on shrimp by attacking from behind and biting through the nerve cord to stop them from moving. Lovely!
Sepia mestus is a type of cuttlefish (NOT “cuddle,” “cuttle,” they are quite venomous). What makes cuttlefish unique is their internal shell, the cuttlebone, which helps them control their buoyancy. If you’re thinking, “hmm, cuttlebones sound an awful lot like the little white disks I give my pet bird,” you’re right. These are the little white disks you give your pet bird to upkeep their beak pointiness. They’re not just a snack for the common house bird though. A study done on these cephalopods showed that they are capable of delayed gratification—something a lot of children are not! In simpler terms, this means that cuttlefish have the foresight to wait for a better option instead of picking the first, more mediocre thing presented to them.
Picture of Sepia Mestus
My boy Crusty is just full of fun names, including his scientific name Allonautilus scrobiculatus, and the more colloquial fuzzy nautilus and crusty nautilus. Is that not the cutest name? If I had a boat, I’d name it “The Fuzzy Nautilus.” The name comes from the fuzzy-looking protection covering its snail-like shell. This fuzz is a mix of hair-esque parts and freshly caught debris floating in its environment. Despite its protective home, the fuzzy nautilus is extremely susceptible to heat exposure, so it cannot venture close to the surface. Instead, it likes to lay low at around 500–1,300 ft (around 120 stories down)! The nautilus has been around for over 480 million years, and the crusty version of this ancient species allows us a look into the past. You know those fossilized spiral-looking things? Those are Fuzzy’s great-great grandparents!
Picture of crusty nautilus
Octopuses? Octopi? Either way, the dumbo octopus is one of the cutest looking marine creatures out there. With its squishy round body, big eyes, and elephant-looking fins, Dumbo is the sweetheart of the deep-sea world. It uses its fins to propel forward, and the smaller arm-like things on the bottom of its body to change direction. Most of the time, though, the dumbo octopus lays low on the seafloor, with all of its limbs spread out like a pancake to crawl along using its webbed fins. The name “dumbo octopus” isn’t just one specific species—there are about 15 different species under the umbrella term “dumbo octopus.”
Picture of Dumbo Octopus
Well, we’ve reached the end of our tour, you can get back on the boat, take off your scuba gear, and enjoy the relaxing boat ride back to the bay. Hopefully, you’ve come out of this with a newfound appreciation for these deep sea creatures and their fascinating ways of life, and gotten to SEA how much of the underwater world we still don't know. Stay punny, my little teuthologists.