9 October 2011

Darwin's octopus

I learn via Michael Barton's The Dispersal of Darwin blog that 8th–12th October have been dubbed Cephalopod Awareness Days. What better excuse do I need to repost this 2009 post from one of my other blogs?

Charles Darwin to John Stevens Henslow (18-May-1832):

St Jago [modern-day Porto Praya in the Cape Verde Islands] is singularly barren & produces few plants or insects.—so that my hammer was my usual companion, & in its company most delightful hours I spent.—

On the coast I collected many marine animals chiefly gasteropodous (I think some new).— I examined pretty accurately a Caryophyllea & if my eyes were not bewitched former descriptions have not the slightest resemblance to the animal.— I took several specimens of an Octopus, which possessed a most marvellous power of changing its colours; equalling any chamaelion, & evidently accommodating the changes to the colour of the ground which it passed over.—yellowish green, dark brown & red were the prevailing colours: this fact appears to be new, as far as I can find out.

Darwin was hopelessly wrong about the colour-changing ability of octopuses being a new observation. But never mind: the good news is that one of Darwin's St Jago octopuses is still alive and kicking preserved for posterity in Cambridge, and I have photos to prove it:

Darwin's octopus
Darwin's octopus

Darwin's octopus
The accompanying label

5 comments:

Panic Attack said...

Amazing! That octopus is over a century old - and it is so well preserved that one can see the suction cups and other small details.

These kind of Awareness Days can spur forward the interest of many to science. Hopefully, with such accomplishments, instead of the funding for projects like this being cut, there will be more provided.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff.

lisamoab said...

Well, can't fault Darwin for enthusiasm, at least... We saw some of "his" preserved barnacles at the Natural History Museum open house in London a couple of evenings back, as well as a nicely preserved Darwin's Predicted Moth. Excellent photos, by the way.

Cuttlefish Country said...

Thanks for posting this neat little time capsule.. and for promoting Cephalopod Awareness Days! There's a dedicated page on facebook now, with an open invite for people like yourself to contribute, pics, links, videos etc... please swing on by!

Rachell Search The Internet said...

Amazing! That octopus is over a century old - and it is so well preserved,interesting stuff.