Six Reasons the Blanket Octopus is My New Favorite Stunning Sea Creature

Given the internet’s obsession with both large cephalopods and bizarre animals, you’d think blanket octopuses would be all over it by now. I mean, a two-meter-long octopus dressed like a fashion icon?? HELLO! But the truth is, blanket octopuses are incredibly elusive. Very few videos exist, and not much is known about their biology. To help spread the word on these lovely creatures, here are all the best videos I’ve seen, plus six reasons why blanket octopuses are my favorite cephalopods.

1) The blanket octopus is stunning. The female blanket octopus (Tremoctopus spp.) spends her entire life in the open ocean, and looks fabulous doing so. Between the arms of the female blanket octopus are long sheets of multi-color changing skin for a truly stunning display as in the video below (plus more on this in #6).

2) Blanket octopus females are 10,000 times bigger than males. For many animals, the male is the bigger and flashier sex. But not so for the blanket octopus. The females can reach up to 2 meters (~6.6 ft) in length. The males, on the other hand, are the size of the pupil in a female’s eye, or roughly the size of  your thumbnail, and look like this:

Screen Shot 2019-06-24 at 11.36.09 AM.png
Scale bar is 1 mm.

Males were first discovered during a “blackwater hang” [1]. Y’know, where scientists go diving in the middle of the night…in the middle of the ocean…while hanging from a rope above the abyss. Oh, and sometimes they have to take a ‘shark stick’ to poke away nighttime predators. No problem.

3) Blanket octopuses are very romantic. When a male finds a female he likes, he doesn’t try to convince her that he’s the right guy. Instead, he fills up one of his little arms with sperm, sticks it to her, and breaks it off his own body. She keeps it, and can use it if she wants to. He is very patient like that. He’s all about making her happy. Did I mention he probably dies afterward? He likes her that much [1].

4) The ‘blankets’ of blanket octopuses can break off. This may be accidental, or a way to distract predators. Occasionally these blankets are spotted by divers. I can’t imagine what someone might think, finding something like this with no rhyme or reason. Just a beautiful scarf of living flesh, floating in the middle of the ocean.

5) Females have weapons. Young female blanket octopuses literally rip the tentacles right off portuguese man-o-war jellies and uses them like little octopus nunchuks. They hold onto these tentacles with their suckers, and the scientist who accidentally discovered this “experienced sudden and severe pain [and] involuntarily threw the octopod back into the water” [2]. These tentacle weapons may be more than just defensive. Blanket octopuses may actually use these stollen tentacles to stun or kill prey. DO. NOT. MESS. WITH. THESE. LADIES.

6) They’re icons of the anxious heart. If a female blanket octopus is feeling insecure, as in the video below, she unfurls her fleshy cape and lets her true colors fly! Now that’s empowerment!

An earlier version of this article originally appeared at Deep Sea News.


[1] Norman MD, Paul D, Finn J & Tregenza T (2002). First encounter with a live male blanket octopus: the world’s most sexually size-dimorphic large animals. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, Vol 36. Pages 733-736. PDF

[2] Jones EC (1963). Tremoctopus violaceus Uses Physalia Tentacles as Weapons. Vol 139(3556). Pages 764-766. HTML link


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