Blue Ringed Octopus: Characteristics, behavior, reproduction and more

In order to show you more about different types of marine species we offer you this article about the interesting and even dangerous blue ringed octopus.

The blue-ringed octopus is a genus called Hapalochlaena, which was described by a British zoologist named Guy Coburn Robson in 1929, to which four species belong. The commonly called Great blue-ringed octopus has the scientific name Hapalochlaena lunulata. The second species is Hapalochlaena maculosa  and is commonly referred as southern blue ringed octopus or small ringed octopus.

The Hapalochlaena fasciata and  the species Hapalochlaena nierstraszi that was described in 1938 from a single specimen from the Bay of Bengal are the two other specimens within this group . However, six additional species are under investigation  and will be possibly   incorporated to  the  Hapalochlaena genus. This genus of blue-ringed octopuses belongs to the Mollusca phylum, to the cephalopod class, and they are members of the Octopoda order and the Octopodidae family.

Main Characteristics of the Blue Ringed Octopus

The characteristics of these octopuses vary according to the species, but share some of them. Their main features relies in  their toxicity, since each of them have a very dangerous poison. The best-known octopus of this genus is the species Hapalochlaena lunulata known as the large ringed octopus, despite its vernacular name, it is a small octopus whose size does not exceed 10 centimeters, with the arms included and it has an average weight of 80 grams. Its common name comes from the relatively large size of its blue rings that measure 7 to 8 millimeters in diameter, and are larger than those of the other members of the genus, in this way the Hapalochlaena lunulata species is easily distinguished from the others. This blue-ringed octopus has the head slightly flattened back ventrally and has very short arms or tentacles. The body’s color of this octopus changes according to the situation and the environment, and it ranges from a yellow to ocher to a light brown wade  through a whitish when the octopus is relaxed. The blue rings are approximately 60, scattered throughout its body.

The rings are more or less circular and are based on a darker spot than the background color of the octopus mantle of blue rings. These rings have a black line whose thickness can vary to increase their contrast with their body and make them more visible, this line borders the electric blue circles. The blue ringed octopus is an  aposematic creature, which means that it has an emergency coloration, whose purpose is to show clearly to all possible predators that this is a highly poisonous animal, in addition it has characteristic blue lines that pass through its eyes. On the other hand, the species Hapalochlaena maculosa called southern blue ringed octopus can grow up to 20 centimeters long during its adulthood.

This measurement is taken from the top of its mantle mantle to the tip of the arms and has an average weight of 26 grams. It has the same type of coloration as the previous species described, but its rings are much smaller. The species Hapalochlaena fasciata commonly called blue octopus, is relatively small, with a mantle of up to 45 millimeters in length. Their size varies from 4.5 cm to 5.5 cm when they are adults. It has a mottled yellow brown with dark blue or black streaks that cover the entire body, minus the lower part of its arms, its vibrant blue patches appear as a warning when they feel threatened. As we indicated at the beginning of the article about the Hapalochlaena nierstraszi species, very little information is available because only two specimens have been studied.

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Characteristic Behavior

The blue-ringed octopus spends much of its time hiding in the cracks and displaying effective camouflage patterns with its dermal cromatophores cells. Like all octopuses, they can easily change shape, which helps them to get into cracks much smaller than them. (we invite you to read our article octopuses, to learn more about them. This fact, along with the accumulation of rocks outside the entrance of his lair, helps to protect the octopus from predators. If provoked, they rapidly change color, turning bright yellow with each of the rings flashing with a bright blue iridescent in a third of a second as an aposematic warning screen.

Their Common Habitats

If you wonder where the blue-ringed octopus lives, determining the exact location of these octopuses is a bit difficult, and it depends on the species, however, in a general way we can indicate that most of them are distributed in the Pacific Ocean.The species H. Lunulata is disseminated throughout the tropical and subtropical waters of the Indo-Western Pacific, from Sri Lanka to the Philippines and from Australia to southern Japan. The blue-ringed octopus likes shallow waters with mixed sea bottoms like debris, reefs (see: coral reef ), sandy areas among others. Like all octopuses, it lives in a burrow and only goes out to look for food or a couple.

Their refuge’s entrance is usually full of meals ‘remains and also of empty shells, and it is quite easy to identify. The species H. Maculosa is most commonly found in tidal rock pools along the southern coast of Australia. In turn, the H. fasciata species is usually found around the intertidal rocky coasts and coastal waters at a depth of 15 meters between southern Queensland and southern New South Wales, from the H. Nierstraszi octopus.

blue ringed octopus : coral reefs

Color Change in the Blue Ringed Octopus

The octopus generally relies on three structures on its skin to create its elaborated displays. The chromatophores are sacs full of pigments that are controlled by the surrounding muscles.

Flexing and contracting these muscles can expand or reduce the sacks, changing the overall appearance in a complicated choreography of colored drops. Below these are the iridophores, which are firmer and iridescent leaves whose color is controlled by a change in the arrangement of proteins and the cytoplasm to reflect different wavelengths of light or UV waves. And, finally, leucophores are more passive white reflectors that add brightness and contrast to the general screen.


What does the blue-ringed octopus feeds on?

Generally their diet is quite varied, they hunt at night and thanks to their excellent vision they are able to find food without any problem. They eat shrimps , fish and hermit crabs. They are successful hunters because of their speed and the poison they place in the body of their prey in a very short time.

This process paralyzes the prey completely, giving the octopus time to enter and use its powerful beak to break the shells and eat the food inside. They are also known for their cannibalistic behaviors; however, it is important to point out that they eat each other for territorial rights and not because of the urgency of finding food.

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How the Blue-Ringed Octopus Reproduces?

They are very solitary because of their aggressive nature, but they tend to change this behavior when they are ready to mate. Males and females stay in the same area for a couple of days for mating to occur as many times as possible during that period of time.

Males enjoy the mating act, so females have to move them away after a couple of days. They are so persistent that all this can result in very strong battles. Once the mating process is completed, they take separate paths. The females will have about 50 eggs developing in their body, after fertilizing them with the males’ sperm. Once successful fertilization has been achieved, she places them safely under her arms until they are ready to go. Both males and females have a very short life. Males die shortly after mating, which can be in a couple of days or a few weeks. The average life of this octopus is 1 ½ years.

Their Main Predators

The blue-ringed octopus has to deal with a number of predators, such as whales, eels and birds. These predators are able to reach them quickly and with the surprise factor on their side. Sometimes these predators become the prey thanks to the sting of the octopus, which immobilizes them. The octopus can choose between feeding well or swimming away.

Due to the danger that this octopus represents, it is commonly hunted by men. This practice is supported in many places so that people feel more secure in the water.

The Blue Ringed Octopus Sting

The blue-ringed octopus, despite its small size, produces enough venom to kill twenty-six adult humans in a matter of minutes. Its bites are small and often painless, and most victims don’t realize they have been poisoned until respiratory problems and paralysis begins.

There is still no antidote against the poison of the blue-ringed octopus, which makes it one of the deadliest reef dwellers in the world. Therefore we must be very careful with this species of octopus and get away if we see something bright.

The Blue Ringed Octopus Poison

The octopus develops a poison that contains tetrodotoxin, histamine, tryptamine, octopamine, taurine, acetylcholine and dopamine.  It can cause nausea, respiratory arrest, heart failure, severe and sometimes total paralysis, blindness and can lead to death in minutes if not properly treated.

The main component of the blue ring octopus neurotoxic is a compound that was originally known as maculotoxin, but was later found to be identical to tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxic that is also found in puffer fish and some poisonous frogs.

Tetrodotoxin is 1,200 times more toxic than cyanide, and produces motor paralysis and respiratory arrest within minutes of being in contact with it. It comes from the microorganisms of its salivary glands.

A person must be in contact with the octopus to be poisoned, since when they face danger their first instinct is to flee. If the threat persists, the octopus will adopt a defensive posture and show its blue rings, only if an octopus is cornered and touched, a person will be in danger of being bitten and poisoned.danger of being bitten and poisoned.

Effect of Poison

Tetrodotoxin causes severe body paralysis, which is total in most cases.  Tetrodotoxin poisoning can make victims fully aware of their environment, but can’t breathe, and due to the paralysis they have no way to ask for help or indicate any distress signal.

The victim usually remains conscious and alert in a manner similar to curare or pancuronium bromide.  However, this effect is temporary and fades in few hours as the body metabolizes and excretes tetrodotoxin. Symptoms have different severity level, with children being more exposed due to their small body size.

Poison Treatment

For first aid treatment in cases of blue-ringed octopus sting, first press on the wound and give artificial respiration. Since the poison kills primarily through paralysis, victims are often saved if artificial respiration is initiated and maintained before cyanosis and hypotension develop. Efforts should continue even if the victim doesn’t seem to respond, and the respiratory support next to the pressure should continue until medical assistance arrives. If treated in this way victims usually survive and recover.

It is essential that rescue breathing continue until the paralysis subsides and the victim regains the ability to breathe on her own. A respirator with a bag valve mask should be used, which reduces fatigue to sustainable levels until help arrives. The final hospital treatment consists of placing the patient in a medical ventilator until the body eliminates the toxin. Victims who survive the first twenty-four hours usually recover completely.

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The Blue-Ringed Octopus In Culture

The blue-ringed octopus is the prominent symbol of the secret order of shoulder straps and smugglers in the James Bond Octopussy film, where it appears in an aquarium tank, in silk robes, and as a tattoo on women of this order. The animal also appeared in the book State of Fear by Michael Crichton, where a terrorist organization used the animal’s venom as its favorite murder weapon. The Adventure Zone presented a blue-ringed octopus in its «Petals to the Metal» series.

Other poisonous marine Animals

In addition to the blue ring octopus there are also some mollusks that also have a potent poison. Learn about some of them, to be very careful if you can see any.

Cone snails

They live on the tropical Indo-Pacific reefs, and hunt small fish. Although all conical snails hunt and kill prey using poison, the venom of the species Conus geography is potent enough to kill humans. The Conus geography is highly dangerous since it has the most toxic sting known among snail species and is responsible for more than thirty human deaths.

The venom is a complex of hundreds of different toxins that is released through the toxoglosy toxin, a harpoon-like tooth driven by an extensible trunk. There is no antidote and the treatment is to keep the victims alive until the toxins disappear, as with the blue-ringed octopus. Among the compounds found in cone snail venom, are proteins that if isolated have great potential as medication to eliminate pain.

Research shows that certain component proteins of the poison, are directed at specific human pain receptors, and may be up to 10,000 times more potent than morphine without its addictive properties and side effects.  Conantokin-G is a toxin derived from the venom of C. Geography. Only 15-20 of the 100-200 toxic poison peptides are used for hunting. It is believed that the other compounds are defensive, and that the poison is used primarily for defense.

Recent research has revealed that C. Geography uses a form of insulin as a means to stun its prey. This insulin is different from its own with shorter chains and appears to be a reduced version of those found in fish.

 Balloons Fish

Most of the varieties of  balloon fish are toxic and some of them are among the most poisonous vertebrates in the world. In certain species of these fish organs such as the liver and sometimes the skin possess tetrodotoxin, a substance which is very poisonous to most animals when eaten; However, the meat of some species is considered a delicacy in many western countries such as  Japan.

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