Top 10 Cephalod Super Powers


Though related to nearly brainless slugs, snails and mussels, Cephalopods such as octopuses (the correct plural, wise guys) and squids are some of the most sophisticated animals known to man, possessed of impressive intelligence, a versatile anatomy and adaptations proving we don’t need to leave the Earth to see something alien. The following are just some of the amazing methods by which these strange creatures have managed to outlive the dinosaurs and could very easily outlive us humans.

10. Water Rockets

flying squid

The torpedo-like bodies of squid are built more for speed than the baggy, gelatinous form of an octopus, but you can only move so fast through fluid. When squid near the surface need to make a quick getaway, they can propel themselves clear out of the water and soar through the air for several yards, flattening their tentacles into a set of gliding fins and even squirting water to keep themselves airborne. (Image credit: Bob and Deb Hulse).

9. Inky Escapes

Squirting ink is perhaps the most famous defense of the cephalopoda, a trait shared by nearly all squid, octopuses and cuttlefish. Comprised mostly of melanin and mucus generated in a special saclike organ, there are actually two ways in which this ink is employed. Octopuses and squid will usually release a single, large “smokescreen” of ink to mask their escape and temporarily blind an attacker. While, cuttlefish more commonly use their ink to generate “pseudomorphs” or “false bodies.” These are smaller, denser ink clouds with a higher mucus content, allowing them to hold their shape longer as in the video above. In the heat of a chase, predators can easily mistake one of these slimy blots for the cuttlefish itself, which may shift to a lighter color to make its inky decoys stand out better.

8. All-Terrain Camouflage

Especially advanced in the cuttlefish and octopuses, many cephalopods can instantly transform both the color and texture of their skin to match their surroundings with startling accuracy, a feat accomplished by opening and closing complex pigment-filled cells in various combinations. As you can imagine, it takes some advanced brainpower for an animal to take in its surroundings and recreate them on its own skin at a microscopic level, and the measurable intelligence of an octopus is comparable to that of a human infant.

7. Venomous Beaks

The tiny blue ringed octopus is as adept at camouflage as any other octopod, but when that doesn’t work, it reverts to the special pattern it was named for, a last-ditch warning sign to back off. One bite from this little critter’s beak packs enough tetrodotoxin to paralyze or kill a full grown human. Not that you need much, since tetrodotoxin, believed to be a by-product of symbiotic bacteria, is 10,000 times more toxic than an equivalent amount of cyanide. Scientists now believe that most, if not all octopuses, have a venomous bite- but few concentrate anywhere near as much as this five inch monster.

6. Secret Defense Cloak

Members of the genus Tremoctopus respond to danger remarkably like a comic book superhero – throwing on a flowing, colorful “cape” seemingly from nowhere and soaring with arms outstretched. This flimsy, fleshy membrane makes the animal appear instantly larger, more intimidating and more puzzling to its predators. Predators are more likely to bite off chunks of the fragile, expendable cape than they are to bite anywhere vital. These bizarre octopuses are also notable for their sexual dimorphism; it’s the females who sport the capes, while males resemble “baby” octopuses a tiny fraction the female’s size.

5. Hypno-Tentacles

Cuttlefish, pudgier cousins to the squids, apply their color-changing abilities to much more than defensive camo. While hunting, many cuttlefish will change color in waves along their surface, creating animated patterns that flow along their bodies, or simply flash light and dark in a rapid “strobe” effect. To simple-minded (and tasty) fish and shrimp, these psychedelic effects can be highly disorienting, making it difficult for prey to determine the shape and position of the cuttlefish until it is too late.

4. Coconut Armor

Demonstrating the first known example of tool use in invertebrates, the veined octopus lives in barren, sandy stretches of shallow water with very little to hide in but scattered, empty coconut shells and has learned to hold and carry them as both a disguise and a protective shield, holding coconut halves tightly together when attacked.

3. Light Cloak

In the permanent night of the deep sea abyss, one would think that luminescent animals stand out like a sore thumb, and sometimes they do – many creatures at these depths emit light to attract prey, startle predators or communicate to potential mates. Others, however, especially certain squid, emit light to *hide* in the darkness. The eyes of many deep sea predators are so sensitive to the miniscule traces of sunlight from above that solid objects (such as tasty squid) still appear darker to them than the surrounding water, so by generating just enough light from its entire surface, a squid can fool these predators and camouflage itself against the faint, faint light of a world that, to us, appears pitch black.

2. Borrowed Stingers

Cephalod borrowed stingers

Cnidarians such as jellyfish and anemones are well known for their venomous stings, actually thousands of microscopic venom-filled cells equipped with their own sensitive “harpoons.” Cephalopods have nothing like these microscopic weapons, but that doesn’t stop them from using them. The tremoctopus already mentioned has been known to rip tentacles off Portuguese Man O’ War, carrying them around as weapons to sting persistent attackers. Another group of octopuses, the bizarre Argonauta or “paper nautili,” have sometimes been observed attaching themselves to the tops of jellyfish, dragging them around for protection and even chewing through their stomachs so they can still feed.

1. Shape Shifting

The mesmerizing and highly unique “mimic octopus” of Indonesia isn’t satisfied with blending into corals and seaweed, but uses the natural flexibility of octopuses to imitate completely different animals, even jumping between multiple forms in a flash. They may flatten out and swim like a flounder, stretch two tentacles into the shape of a deadly sea snake, bunch up into a false starfish and many other sneaky disguises– all while changing color patterns to match. It typically imitates venomous or unappetizing animals, but simply changing forms at all can be enough to confuse an attacker.

by Jonathan Wojcik/

Watch all of these videos at our Cephalod YouTube playlist. Let us know in the comments if you have footage you’d like us to add.


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  1. reply to ParusMajor on

    the plural is “octopuses” It’s a great word to trip up so-called “grammar Nazis”!

  2. Great list, I love octopies! Ehm… octopussies? Octopedes?? Octopodes??? Well, whatever the plural is, they are fascinating animals. Thanks for the list. ­čśÇ