There are 76 recorded species of cephalopod in Hawaiʻi. Of them, the Day Octopus (Octopus cyanea), or heʻe mauli, is the most commonly observed. Day Octopuses are usually the most active during the early morning and late afternoon. Because it is active during the day, the octopus must use its incredible camouflage abilities to hunt unnoticed. Using its ability to change its skin color and texture at will, the octopus can seemingly disappear from sight at a moments notice to resemble their surroundings and protect themselves from predation.
An octopus has over 500 million neurons, of which 60% are located within its eight arms. Each arm can independently react to environmental stimuli and carry out separate tasks at once. They are highly intelligent — they can learn from observation, use tools, and solve puzzles.
Contrary to popular belief, octopuses don’t have tentacles! In the world of cephalopods (squids, octopus, and nautilus), a tentacle has suckers only at the tip of its appendage whereas an arm has suckers along the entire length. Most Day Octopuses are four to five pounds with a maximum arm span of three feet.
They can uses their arms to “walk” across coral. These prehensile limbs can condense down into the smallest of cracks, allowing the octopus to squeeze in and escape danger quickly. The only hard structure within its extremely flexible body is a bird-like beak with a toothed tongue known as a radula. The octopus’s beak helps it to pick apart crustaceans as well as small fish.
As if the octopus wasn’t fascinating enough, the octopus’ eye contains a single photoreceptor, meaning it only sees black and white! By rapidly focusing its eye at different depths and taking light in from multiple directions, an octopus may be able to distinguish different colors despite technically being colorblind.
Octopuses under Maui Ocean Center’s care are only here for a short period of time before their return to the ocean. This ensures that every octopus can complete its life’s purpose: to find a mate and produce the next generation of octopuses. Males display light and dark stripes when trying to attract females. Mating only once in its yearlong lifetime, the male transfers sperm packages (spermatophores) to the female and then dies. The female lays strings of eggs on the ocean floor, fertilizes each egg with the male’s sperm, and guards them for four to six weeks. During this time, she slowly starves to death, eventually becoming food for her emerging offspring.
In Hawaiian culture, four main deities were worshipped: Kāne (deity of creation), Kū (deity of war), Lono (deity of agriculture), and Kanaloa (deity of the ocean). Kanaloa had several kinolau, or body forms, that he could manifest into. The most associated form of Kanaloa is the octopus.
The old Hawaiian saying, Pua ke kō, kū mai ka he‘e (When the sugarcane flowers, the octopus appears) refers to the towering cream and lavender colored sugarcane flowers that not only signaled a time to harvest cane, but also signaled a favorable time for fishermen to collect octopus, or he‘e, from the sea. Sugar cane typically blooms in November when many believe octopus are most abundant on the reef.