The Caribbean reef octopus is an absolute master of disguise and one of the most intelligent known invertebrates. Individuals of this species can completely change their color from one moment to the next using specialized color cells called chromatophores. In doing so, they often perfectly blend with their surroundings, even when settled on a surface with multiple colors. They also have such amazing control of their skin and muscles that they can match the texture of their surroundings as well. A camouflaged Caribbean reef octopus can be nearly impossible to see.
These octopuses are foraging predators on coral reefs of the Caribbean Sea. They eat mostly invertebrates and specialize on clams, large marine snails, crabs, lobsters, etc. They are also known to occasionally be cannibalistic and eat individuals of the same species, most typically after defending territory against an intruder. Most hunting occurs during the night, when the Caribbean reef octopus can crawl around the reef without being attacked by predators. This species is eaten by most large bony fishes and sharks that live on the reef. In order to escape predation, Caribbean reef octopuses can eject a cloud of dark ink toward an oncoming predator. In addition to masking the octopus’s escape, the ink tastes bad and deters the predator from continuing its attack.
Caribbean reef octopuses mate via internal fertilization, and females lay eggs in crevices or caves along the reef surface. The nest is guarded by the female for more than two months until the eggs hatch. During this time, she does not leave her nest to feed or for any other purpose. Caribbean reef octopuses are fast growing, and after they hatch, the new individuals are sexually mature in less than five months.
This species is not fished commercially, but artisanal fishers certainly take the Caribbean reef octopus, and it has been depleted in some areas. Population trends across its entire range are not currently known, but it is likely that continued local fishing could put the species at risk. Furthermore, as this species lives on coral reefs, changes to that vulnerable ecosystem that result from climate change, overfishing, or other human activities could risk the Caribbean reef octopus as well.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.