One of the things I love about diving in California is that most of the really unique and interesting creatures are not immediately visible. Much of the life here blends in with its surroundings and can be easily missed. Sure there are things like the Spanish Shawl and some other nudibranchs, that while small, stick out like a sore thumb with their bright purple and orange coloring, but many of the fish and crab and other ocean dwellers along our coasts are a bit more drab, or at least appear so at first sight. They hide away among the rocks, slink in the kelp or nestle themselves in the sand… blending in and disappearing.
One of my favorites of these magicians is the octopus. With its beak being the only hard part of its body the octopus is really the great contortionist of the ocean, often found squeezed into little holes and all wrapped up on itself as it hides away. Since it is rare to see one just out and a about, especially out here, they can be easily missed. You have to know what you are looking for, which is typically the eye.
While the octopus can change color to mimic its surroundings and blend in even more the eye does not change. It will stay white with its black slit, which is what usually will catch the attention of the diver as they swim over. Its very easy to miss these creatures, for example, this guy was curled up in a hole about 2 feet from a hermit crab that I had been photographing for about ten minutes. I paused and glanced to my right briefly and to my astonishment, there he was just sitting there. I’m sure I’ve swam over countless octopus hidden away in holes over the course of many dives but its always great when you look in the right spot at the right time and discover a little treasure all neatly packed up for your viewing pleasure.
What I really love about these guys, is how at first they appear mostly brown, blending in the with the rocks and surroundings, but when you look closely its easy to discover that their skin is a riot of color, all able to change and flash and adapt to whatever they’re resting on. It might just look like a mottled brown rock, but will also pull in the pinks and greens of the surrounding algae and anemones to further the camouflage. In addition to the great color palette, the octopus displays amazing patterns.
With its skin a web of dots and lines and stripes and circles, the octopus blends in well to its surroundings. The patterns can shift and change just like the colors do making this creature not only a great contortionist, but also a master of disguise.
Next time you’re out diving, keep an eye down along the rocks looking for any holes, nooks or crannies and keep a look out for the white eye. You just might stumble upon an octopus!