QI: Octopi in the Blue Yonder

     

QI: How does an octopus smell?
A: Depends if he’s had cabbage chilli for dinner (ba-dum-dum). *BUZZ*.
A: With its nose?
QI: *BUZZ* As this Harvard researcher determined, and like so many other activities in the octopus’ fascinating life, with its suckers (“
Touch and taste? It’s all in the suckers”)

Happy Octopus Day! If an octopus seems otherworldly with all of these bizarre qualities, then maybe it more so than you realized according to Big Think – “Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist” With the Maldives otherworldly’ aquatic vistas, snorkeling with an octopus might be the closest thing you can get to experiencing an alien encounter in the zero gravity of space.

   

QI: Shark Sex

Sex…AND Sharks! Now that I have you attention!…

Q: How many penises does a male shark have?
A: One?
Q: BUZZZ. Nope. Two penises. “He uses only one at a time, depending on which side of the female shark he finds himself.”
One is used for depositing and the other is used for “holding on”. Ducks famously have multiple vaginas (so they can choose which of the many male ducks who take her forcibly to actually sire her children). Sharks have multiple penises.

That’s not all they use to literally embrace their beloved. Male sharks also use their teeth used to hold onto female shark (so much so that “female sharks tend to have thicker skins than males and bigger bodies in order to withstand the results of a male shark trying to hang onto her with his teeth” (up to 3x thicker). Now THAT’s a love bite!

Q: Since sharks are fish and not mammals, how many ways can sharks give birth?
A: One (laying eggs)?
Q: BUZZZ. A number of shark are indeed oviparous (lays eggs), but a number of species are viviparous (give birth live).
A: So two??
Q: BUZZZ. Some shark species are actually ovoviparous meaning that the eggs hatch in the oviduct within the mother’s body and that the egg’s yolk and fluids secreted by glands in the walls of the oviduct nourishes the embryos.

QI: What Exactly Is It??

Q: What are those things swimming around the reef?
A: Fish?
Q: Buzzzz…there’s actually no such thing as a fish.

That’s the conclusion of eminent natural historian Steve J. Gould (small world coincidence – Lori sang in the same choir as him years ago). There are all sorts of creatures dubbed “fish” and yet they all exist on all different branches of the species taxonomy – jellyfish, cuttlefish, crayfish, shellfish starfish. There is no one Order or Genus that contains all or even the vast majority of species that people popularly refer to a “fish”. As a Telegraph piece describes: “Unlike mammals and birds, not all the creatures we call fish today descend from the same common ancestor. Or put another way, if we go back to most recent common ancestor of everything we now call fish (including the incredibly primitive lungfish and hagfish), we find that they also were the ancestor of all four-legged land vertebrates, which obviously aren’t fish at all.” (at least in the Maldives you can be pretty sure that the “fish” you are dining on is actually the fish they say you are eating which is not always the case elsewhere).

On a similar note, Bird and Moon flippantly points out another aquatic “Animal With a Misleading Name” – the Peacock Mantis Shrimp. They look like a walking lobster tail where the claws and long legs have been removed (but they’re not even Lobsters either). Mantis Shrimp are their own distinct order of “Stomatopods” (which falls under the Subphylum of Crustaceans). But their mendacious moniker isn’t the only curiosity of this colourful creature. In fact, the Oatmeal, illustrated a complete portrait of the bizarre life of the mantis shrimp (“my new favourite animal”) with such factoids as and they can move their limbs so quickly they can supercavitate the water (like boiling it), they can accelerate as fast as a bullet, their limbs are so resilient that the cell structure has been studied for the development of combat body armour, they can’t be kept in aquariums because they tend to break the aquarium’s glass.

Peacock Mantis Shrimp

Mantis Shrimp nightmare

Best of the Maldives: Shadow Trompe L’oeil – Cocoon

Cocoon - shadow trompe loeik

QI of the Day: “Why do fish have stripes and spots?”
To confuse and scare predators
Buzzzzz!
Actually,
recent research by Kelly et al provides a range of counter evidence that the leading theories, ie. “Predator defence by mimicking predators’ enemies’ eyes, deflecting attacks or intimidating predators…Striped body patterns have been suggested to serve for both social communication and predator defence.”). These hypothesis are contradicted by a range of data and observations. For example, “Contrary to our expectations, spots and eyespots appeared relatively recently in butterflyfish evolution and are highly evolutionarily labile, suggesting that they are unlikely to have played an important part in the evolutionary history of the group.”

And why does the Cocoon resort have a trompe l’oeil shadow on the wall of a wrought iron grille as if the sun was shining through some window on the Riviera? Just for a bit of aesthetic whimsy (maybe that is an explanation for reef fish too). Even more mysterious is how the shadow is created as there is absolutely nothing on the villa windows except what appears to be clear glass. It’s a bit more design wizardry from the resort…floating furniture, shadows of invisible things – it’s like staying a Hogwarts. Magic all over the resort from the reef to the rooms.

QI 14

Octopus coconut shell

  • Q: What colour is the blood of an octopus?
  • A: Red?
  • Q: Buzzzz…no blue.
  • Q: How many hearts does an octopus have?
  • A: Ah, you said “hearts” so it must be 2!
  • Q: Buzzzz…no, they actually have 3.
  • Q: What does the octopus have 8 of that as inspired technological innovations?
  • A: Legs?
  • Q: Buzzz…8 layers of films that make up their cornea – used in camera technology to reduce the number of lens so reducing costs of cameras
  • Q: Give me an incorrect version of the plural for “octopus”.
  • A: “Octopuses”?
  • Q: Buzzzz. Actually “octopuses” is perfectly acceptable English. You can also refer to them as “octopedes”

Octopus Day today. One of our favourite things to see underwater. And yet so elusive. We never see enough of them (although we did have fun encounter on the Olhuveli house reef this summer with the creature in question playing hide-and-seek with us changing his skin texture and colour with every new hiding place her moved to).

If you think the fun facts above are intriguing (thanks Isley), you ain’t seen nothing until you read about the Pillow Octopus…

  • Female pillow octopus is 40,000 times larger than the male.  Equivalent of a male human dating a woman 4 times larger than the Statue of Liberty
  • For a male pillow octopus to “pull one off” is actually more literal than colloquial.  Hectocautilus – arm that contains sperm.  Gets broken off and then they die within a year. Only reproduce once. (Female dies after reproducing too)
  • Pillow Octopus are known to rip of tentacles of a portugese man-o-war (built up resistance to poison) and use them as swords.  Some octopuses have learned to open jars (where their food was kept)

Octopi are clever creatures.  They have personality and have been observed playing, problem solving, learning.  In fact, some octopus use coconut shell halves as a portable home (see photo at top). 

Octopus’s garden in the sea is a curious place indeed.

Maldives QI – Part (Unlucky) 13

Falling coconut warning

Q: What living thing is most likely to kill you in the Maldives?
A: A shark?
Q: Buzzzz! Actually, there are not recorded incidents of shark attacks at all in the Maldives.

The real answer is likely to be the innocent coconut. And today being Coconut Day is an appropriate time to investigate the treacherous hazards of the humble coconut. Exhibit A is the ABC News article “Coconuts Called Deadlier Than Sharks”…

  • “George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Fla…pointed to recent data that suggested people were 15 times more likely to be killed by falling coconuts than by a shark. “

As it turns out, many resorts have staff who regularly harvest coconuts from the trees. I always thought that this was to get refreshing treats for the guests, but speaking to a manager this past trip I found out that their primary motivation is to reduce the risk of ripe ones falling and hitting guests.

Maldives QI – Part 12

Science Day in nearby India seems like an apropos time for another instalment of Maldives QI. Like all good science teachers, I’m bringing out the video player for special occasions like this. With some lessons about some unexpected swimmers in the Maldives…

  • Q: Name a creature that lives in the water but doesn’t move from place to place
  • A: Sea anemone?
  • Q: Buzzzz! (see above) How about one that lives on land, moves about a lot and doesn’t swim?
  • A: Bat?
  • Q: Buzzzz! (see below)

Seems like everyone enjoys a swim in the crystal clear waters of the Maldives.

Maldives QI – Oceans Eleven

COTS

  • Q: What’s the best way to remove coral reef devouring Crown of Thorns Starfish?
  • A: Spear them and collect them?
  • Q: Buzzz…When a COTS is distressed, by something like being speared, it reacts by releasing its eggs. These number about 10,000 per female. So spearing a COTS just makes it worse.
  • A: Poison them?
  • Q: Buzzz…Not great to put toxic substances into the marine environment

QI returned to our screens this weekend with “Season N” as in nautical nature news.   And today’s Maldives Complete QI instalment on the occasion is just that.  Breaking news on the fight against this scourge of the reefs.

Like so many Maldives islands, Kandolhu faced an outbreak of COTS earlier this year and researched a number of methods for effectively solving the problem. The resort Deputy Manager Laura is a trained marine biologist so they had a bit of a ringer in the battle against this reef destroying creature.

One technique she found was injecting bile salts that you could get from Australia. But that was very expensive. Then, they found out that injecting them with vinegar was effective in killing them and was a non-toxic substance. In the end, Kandolhu has removed 9,000 COTS in the past 6 months and appear to have the situation well under control now. We didn’t see a single one in our near circum-navigation of the island.

Maldives QI – Part X

Realm of the Great White Shark

…for “X” marks the spot where in the world the Great Whites are.

Q: When was the last shark attack in the Maldives?
A: A year ago?
Q: Buzzzzz! No. The Maldives have never had a recorded shark attack on a human.

World Tourism Day today and the Maldives stand tall (much taller than its famously low elevation) among the titans of the travel industry as a bucket list destination. And for selachophiles, the bountiful populations of a range of shark species is one of the many oceanic attractions.

Still, for a few of the more aquatically apprehensive, all these dorsal fins can evokes a number of cinematic fears brought on by everything from Jaws to Deep Blue Sea and Thunderball. In fact, nearly all species of shark keep quite a distance from diving and swimming humans. When you spend some time diving and snorkelling with them, you quickly figure out how they are the scaredy-cats of the ocean turning and fleeing at the least disturbance.

In most cases, these cartoonishly portrayed “man-eaters” are the species “Great White”. And if sharks’ docile temperament isn’t enough to re-assure you then, you can at least travel to the Maldives knowing that you won’t encounter any Great Whites. Great Whites are found pretty much all over the world east-to-west, and north-to-south. But there is one place they don’t hang out in and that’s the Indian Ocean (except for a patch off the coast of east Africa).

Maldives QI – Part Nine for N

Maldives QI heron
This bird is not attractive in the way you might think…

Q: The “Makana” bird (heron) is found everywhere in the Maldives (each resort seems to have its own resident). What makes it such a good fisherman?

A: The Heron making his own oil secreted from the toes which attracts fish.

Q: Buuzzzzz! No. The “stinky feet” story about herons turns out to be an old wives tale (or old fishermans tale)

“Fishermen of yore were convinced that a heron’s foot exuded oil that enticed fish within range of the bird’s five-and-ahalf-inch serrated beak. A formula from the year 1740 for a witches’ brew, Unguentum Piscatorum Mirable, to be smeared on fishing lines included heron’s fat as well as cat’s fat and ‘Man’s fat [which] you may get of any surgeons who are concerned in anatomy.’ To debunk this myth for his 1954 book on the grey heron (spelled ‘gray’ in this country), the Old World counterpart of our great blue heron, British naturalist Frank A. Lowe dropped heron’s-foot extract in an aquarium. The fish ignored it.” – National Wildlife Federation

QI Series N should be hitting our screens in a few weeks time. “N” as in “noisome nippers” perhaps.