Octopus’s Garden

“I’d like to be under the sea in an octopus’s garden in the shade.
We would shout and swim about the coral that lies beneath the waves.”

Ringo Starr wrote this song for The Beatles in 1969. He says “I wrote Octopus’s Garden in Sardinia. Peter Sellers had lent us his yacht and we went out for the day… I stayed out on deck with [the captain] and we talked about octopuses. He told me that they hang out in their caves and they go around the seabed finding shiny stones and tin cans and bottles to put in front of their cave like a garden.”

This inspired him to write the song which was featured in the Beatle’s movie “Yellow Submarine”.

Octopuses really are amazing creatures. They are very intelligent and live in cave-like dens in the rocks. They often close up the front of the cave with rocks and shells, leaving only a small entry hole through which they virtually ooze, coming and going from their homes. When they catch their prey, especially crabs, they return to their dens to dine.  Their garden is the collection of bones, spines, and shells left over from previous meals along with any shiny things they have collected, like tin cans.

If you were an octopus, you would have three hearts; a sharp, horny beak; eight arms – any one of which you could re-grow if you lost it; be related to slugs and garden snails; able to change the color of your skin or squirt ink to hide from your enemies. Octopuses do not have tentacles, but eight arms with a fine membrane (mantle) that unites them at the top.

An octopus may be clutching dozens of crabs and clams as it cruises the shore, using the mantle like a shopping bag, to take it full of food back to the den.  To eat, they pass food from sucker to sucker to the hard beak in their mouth. Their suckers are able to both smell and taste – they are not just for holding on to things. So,  when an octopus is running its arms over things and gently touching with its suckers, it is really having a little sniff and taste to see if it is worth eating.

Some octopus are dangerous, though – especially the little blue-ringed octopus that does live in rocks and crevices around Western Australian and other coast lines.  It spends most of its time hiding away, because lots of fish and seals like to eat them. It may pile up rocks in front of its hiding place – making a little octopus garden.  If it gets excited or upset, it begins to display bright blue rings on its arm.  This is always a warning sign that the octopus is upset.

 Once, when my three kids were quite young, we were at the beach at Cottesloe and we had been swimming, snorkelling, and collecting stones and shells from the reef that is quite close to shore. When we decided to pack up and go home, I asked the boys (Warren and Colin) to put all the shells and stones back in the water.  After all, they were probably someone’s home.  Little did we know!  While we were gathering everything together, a little octopus with bright blue rings came crawling out of one of the bigger shells and walked right across Warren’s arm.  We knew NOTHING about blue ringed octopus and thought it was pretty cute!

Warren just picked it off his arm and took it down to the water and let it go.  We watched it quickly swim away.  It’s a bit funny now, but it would not have been funny at all if it had bitten him because they are both deadly and give a very painful bite. Like all octopuses, it swims by forcing water through a funnel – making it jet propelled. If the blue-ringed octopus loses an arm, it can grow it back within six weeks – just as a crab can grow back a claw or a leg it has lost.

Octopus are curious and intelligent, as befits their role as hunters; probably the most “intelligent” of invertebrates and have been shown to have the ability to learn from experience. It has been estimated that they are even smarter than dogs. To snatch quick snacks, octopuses have been known to climb aboard fishing boats and open holds full of crabs. The arm span of the largest octopus ever recorded was 32 feet and weighed 300 pounds. Squid have both eight arms and two tentacles, which are additional extra-long appendages used for capturing prey.

After mating, the female retires to her den and lays tens of thousands of eggs, which she weaves one at a time into strings attached to the ceiling of her den. She is unable to leave her den to forage for food for about six months, spending the whole time keeping the eggs clean by blowing water current over them. When hatching starts, she will continue to blow water currents across the eggs to help the babies break free.  Sadly, the weakened mother octopus dies; the father will have died within a few months of mating, leaving the thousands of newborn orphans to fend for themselves.

If you would like to see a video of a giant octopus, go to this link on the internet http://bit.ly/SMNTOctopus . By comparison, the Indonesian Mimic Octopus, (Thaumoctopus mimicus) that was only discovered in 1998, is able to copy the physical likeness and movement of more than fifteen different species. It can discern which dangerous sea creature to impersonate to imitate the greatest threat to its current possible predator. http://bit.ly/SMNTMimic

For three years, I have volunteered at local shows for the marine conservation group (Save Our Marine Life) and part of our attraction was to have face painting for children. It was magical. Little girls and boys aged four and five and six (and older) stood patiently in line for up to an hour, waiting to have a whale, an octopus, a penguin painted on their faces. Not a cross word. Not a tear. Not a tantrum.

I can only surmise that it is the combination of the gentle touch of the paintbrush on their faces; being able to choose their own pictures and the intensity of the undivided attention of the painter with their canvas that creates such a level of patience and preparedness to wait their turn. It was an experience I would not have missed for all the world. The older children wrote letters to the Prime Minister urging him to support marine sanctuaries while they waited.

Brothers and sisters and cousins kept each other entertained while they waited their turn. Parents waited quietly too and wrote their letters as well. Save Our Marine Life has been working very hard in Western Australia too and we are overjoyed that the State Government has announced a 7,000 ha marine park north of Broome – with two large “no take” zones to help protect nursing and breeding whales. The Federal Government, too, has announced new Marine Sanctuaries – where our marine life will be able to flourish undisturbed.

I am not the world’s best face painter but now I have a template which I can use and in my idle moments, I dream of painting glorious Octopus’s gardens. This is the kind of Octopus Garden I would like. Cartoon Video of Beatles’ song – Octopus Garden 

Even better – I would like to live in the Underwater World that Debra Harry creates with her incredible art quilts. Debra Harry Art Quilts 

Writers Note:  If you have enjoyed this story in print format, rather than on line, you can view the Cartoon Video and see more about of Debra Harry Art Quilts by visiting online at http://storiesmynanatells.com and finding this story in Snippets. Just do a search for the word “Octopus”.  We would love to see you there. 🙂

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  1. This story is entertaining and educational. I learned so much about the Octopus that I can’t wait to teach my wife when she gets home tonight. Thank You.


    • Thank you Alexis. I am very pleased you enjoyed it. It was an absolute pleasure to write and I have been reading it to young children – who are entranced by it. I appreciate your RT’s on Twitter, too. Very much. Thank you for that.

  2. WOW!! I was mesmerized by the intricate details of the octopus.s life. It was like a mini encyclopedia. I’m glad I don’t eat octopus. I don’t think I could have continued after reading this post.

    Thanks for sharing

    • Author says:

      Hi Adalia and thank you for your comment. They really are the most amazing creatures and it’s sad they don’t live too long. I have to say I still eat calamari.:-)

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