Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The "Devil-Fish"





While working on a bigger post about the timeline of Octopus behavioral research, I came upon this book - "The Octopus; the 'Devil-Fish' of Fiction and of Fact". Read it here on the Internet Archive – it’s available in several formats.

This piece is a colorful account by one Henry Lee of his experience with Octopuses (more properly, about some specific octopuses “with whom [he has] been on friendly terms”.) He has great, livid descriptions of octopus behavior in here, such as his account of feeding an octopus a crab against a pane of glass, so that the process could be observed:
                    Not a movement, not a struggle was visible or possible : each leg, each 
                    claw, was grasped all over by suckers — enfolded in them — stretched 
                    out to its full extent by them. The back of the carapace was 
                    covered all over with the tenacious vacuum-discs, brought together 
                    by the adaptable contraction of the limb, and ranged in close 
                    order, shoulder to shoulder, touching each other ; whilst, between 
                    those which dragged the abdominal plates towards the mouth, the 
                    black tip of the hard, horny beak was seen for a single instant 
                    protruding from the circular orifice in the centre of the radiation 
                    of the arms, and, the next, had crunched through the shell, and 
                    was buried deep in the flesh of the victim.
All in all, it’s an entertaining and informative (although scientifically questionable) read, and is one of the earliest description of octopus behavior that I have yet found free full text for - Aristotle’s descriptions in “The History of Animals” notwithstanding, a translation of which is available at the link, if you’re interested.

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