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  Phylum Mollusca > Class Cephalopoda | squids and cuttlefihes | octopuses
index to talking points for nature guides
For nature guides: introducing cephalopods
updated Oct 2016

What are octopuses, squids and cuttlefishes?
Have you eaten a sotong? How about an octopus, perhaps at a Japanese restaurant? So you know what it looks like.

Have you ever seen a snail? Yes, almost everyone knows what a snail looks like. Octopus, squids and cuttlefishes are their relatives!

Octopuses, squids and cuttlefishes belong to a group of animals called molluscs. Other molluscs include clams and slugs.

Signs of cephalopods

  • Let's looks at this cuttlebone! Cuttlebones are commonly washed up on the shore. You can do in a shelter during rainy weather or while waiting for the tide to go down.
  • Can you guess what this is? Cephalopod egg capsules are sometimes seen. "Watch your step!"

Cephalopods are special
Some special features to highlight

  • Smart! Octopuses are considered the most intelligent of animals without backbones. They can learn tricks, even from one another.
  • Jet-propulsion they move rapidly by squirting water out.
  • Masters of disguise they can change their colours and in octopuses, even their body texture to match their surroundings. Squids talk to one another through colour changes.
  • Disappearing ink they can squirt ink to distract and confuse enemies. But don't force the animal to do this.

Octopuses, squids and cuttlefishes are important to the ecosystem

  • Everyone loves to eat sotong! Including other animals. Cephalopods are part of the food chain. Can we think of some animals that might eat them? Some charismatic animals to highlight: crabs, fishes.

  • As predators, they help keep the population of their prey in check and maintain the natural balance.

Octopuses, squids and cuttlefishes and you
We all love to eat them!

  • In Asia, they may be eaten freshly cooked, or they may be dried. They are also made into candied snacks.
  • Other less well known human uses include:
    • In the past, cuttlefish ink, called 'sepia', was used for writing and painting.
    • Squids also have a role in human medical applications. Squids have gigantic nerve cells that are relatively easy to study. Much of what we know about our own nervous system is based on studies of squid nerve cells. Several Nobel prizes were based on such studies!
    • The squid's efficient jet propulsion system is also inspiring designs for better underwater vehicles.

Cephalopod myths to dispel

  • Not all are harmless. Some like the tiny blue-ringed octopus can kill. But is quite rare on our shores. If you are not sure, don't touch any octopuses.

Handling tips

Where to find them? They are more active at night or near sunrise and sunset. Octopuses generally hide in holes and it's impossible to dig one out. Squids and cuttlefishes swim about and can be very fast. The tiny pygmy squid is quite common, but takes a keen eye to spot.

Can't find the animals? Look for signs of them. Cuttlebones, egg capsules are easy to talk about as they don't run away.

Don't dig up the octopus! It is almost impossible to do so, you will be setting a bad example to visitors, and you will be damaging the surrounding area. If you wait patiently without splashing around, the octopus will usually go about its usual business.

Don't try to tank an octopus. It can crawl rapidly out of any container and move for a short distance over dry land. If it's too far from water, however, it may die.

Don't harass them: Don't stress them to force them to ink.

Don't handle them: Octopuses can bite and many produce a toxin.

Don't remove egg capsules from their support! This will kill the babies.

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