October is National Seafood Month, and I’ve typically written about local species that are delicious to eat. But this month, I thought I would write about a more unusual type of seafood — perhaps not something you would find locally, but it could serve to inspire you to try something new, nonetheless.

I recently had the good fortune to travel to the coast of Spain where I was able to eat some local catch, including this favorite of mine: octopus. It also happens that this coming Saturday, Oct. 8, is World Octopus Day.

While octopuses are not common in Maine, they do live here. In fact, they are one of the most widely distributed sea creatures both in terms of geography and depth. There are octopus species that live in the arctic and also in the tropics, and those that live so deep in the ocean that there is no light and so shallow that you can find them in tidepools. They are truly shapeshifters both in their ability to adapt to this wide variety of habitats and also in their remarkable ability to literally shift their shape, squeezing their boneless bodies through tiny crevices and changing the color and texture of their skin in a flash to match their surroundings.

Before I go further and stumble over words, I should clarify that, while they are typically solitary creatures, when you talk about more than one octopus, the correct word is octopuses. The “es” is the English ending tacked onto the Greek word, októpus, which means “eight foot.”

If you are looking for an octopus that lives in Maine, you might have a hard time finding one as they don’t tend to be very big. While our native species, Octopus vulgaris, is the same common octopus species that is found throughout much of the world, including the Mediterranean where I dined on a much larger individual, in Maine, the common octopus usually only grows to be a handful of inches across. It also is typically found in the deep among something else you might not expect to find in the Gulf of Maine — coral gardens

As I mentioned before, the variety of octopus species is broad with the biggest species, the giant Pacific octopus, reaching nearly 12 feet in length and often weighing more than 50 pounds. Regardless of size, however, octopuses would be highly vulnerable to predators were it not for several rare abilities. While they have no bones, they do have one hard part of their body, the beak. This is a sharp set of mouthparts that it uses to crunch through shellfish and also to inject venom into would-be predators and also prey. The other odd liquid that they produce is their signature ink. While this is not venomous, it can cause irritation to those caught in the dark cloud. This mixture of melanin and mucus is one nasty spit!

Finally, the other well-known adaptation of octopuses is their ability to change the color of their skin. This is less of a chemical change than a physical one. Think of it as a blinking of an eye that, when opened, reveals an otherwise hidden pigment and, when shut, hides it away. These special cells called chromatophores remind me of fall leaves in the way that the bright colors that are typically hidden by the leaves’ chloroplasts are unveiled once the light begins to wane and the plants stop producing the green chlorophyll that masks the other colors during the rest of the year. In the animal world, however, and specifically in octopuses, this can happen in an instant when the octopus feels threatened. This is because of the connection between its chromatophores and its nerve cells.

This weekend, take a moment to look up some videos of octopuses to fully appreciate their unique adaptations. And, while you aren’t going to find Maine octopus at your local fish market, take it as a cue to try something local that you might not have sampled before in celebration of National Seafood Month.

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