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I'd Like to Be Under the Sea...

My fave movie from last year was "My Octopus Teacher," the tender story of a guy and the sea creature he befriends. I fell in love. This amazing creature has been around for something like 330 million years; they predate the dinosaurs. And they are brilliant.

After watching, it's unlikely I will ever again order one of my fave foods: fried calamari (yeah, I know -- same class, different species -- but seeing all those tentacles, it's like eating baby octopuses.) Were I 20 years younger, I might have considered getting a big saltwater tank and keeping an octopus of my own. I cannot recommend the movie highly enough. Everyone I know who's seen it has had the same reaction: rabid octopus love.

I give a nature class every month at Cat Scouts University, and the movie inspired me to study the octopus in more detail and deliver a class on the subject. Here are more of the fun fantastical facts I found out about the octopus:

  • They can completely change their skin color and texture in under a second.

  • They're adept at using tools. Octopuses in captivity regularly solve puzzles, open jars, navigate obstacle courses, and even find cheeky ways to escape their tanks.

  • About two-thirds of an octopus’s neurons are located in its arms. This means the arms can taste, touch, and even act on their own accord, without input from the brain.

  • Octopuses have three hearts. Two of them pump blood to its gills, and a third heart keeps circulation flowing to the organs. This third heart stops every time the octopus is swimming, which may explain why they prefer to crawl.

  • After mating, they're toast. The female will tend her nest of eggs for months without leaving to feed, starvation slowly consuming her.

  • They can regrow limbs.

  • They sometimes build underwater cities. In 2017 scientists discovered an underwater octopus city, which they cleverly named “Octlantis”, off the coast of Eastern Australia. It was populated by a species called the gloomy octopus which was previously thought to be solitary. The scientists witnesses complex social behaviors occurring in the population of 15 octopuses, who were living together, communicating, and even evicting each other from dens. It was the second such city found in the area after a first — “Octopolis” — was discovered in 2009.

  • They can be deadly. Australia’s blue-ringed octopus is considered to be one of the world’s most venomous marine animals. Though only 5-8 inches in size, one octopus can carry enough venom to kill 26 adult humans and all within a matter of minutes. Their potent venom contains tetrodotoxin, which is 1,200 times more toxic than cyanide.

Anyway, I was gobsmacked by what amazingly self-aware and brilliant critters octopuses are, and marvels of engineering -- if you imagine God in a workroom putting together random body parts, you know how he came up with a possum and a platypus, so it's not a stretch to think he may have started out designing a quadopus or hexapus, but decided at some point after a few revs that one simply cannot have too many arms, so he settled on eight. He blessed it with a couple of superpowers, then launched the design and spent the next 330 million years improving on the original.

I have several octopus canvases planned over the next couple of weeks, and I'm really looking forward to working on them. As an artist, the three underwater subjects that interest me the most are octopuses, jellyfish, and sea urchins. I'm drawn to the swirling shapes and vivid colors. The octopus's tentacles describe dynamic arcs with stunning lines of suckers, doing a brilliant job of helping the viewer's eye traverse the canvas.

This work is a 16"x12" cut-paper mixed media collage. Prints on paper and canvas will be ready for sale in a couple of weeks.


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