Nature Field Note: The Octopus!

The Octopus

Location: Marseille, France


Nature is very important to the French. From the beautiful vineyards full of grapes in central France to the majestic purple color of lavender fields in the southern region of Provence, nature is everywhere! Natural habitats across the country are extremely diverse. In the southernmost region of France, where you will find a beautiful coast bordering the Mediterranean Sea, this is also true! This deep-blue sea has many things to offer not only for the French, but for the many countries that also surround it.


When you think of nature in France, what comes to your mind? Perhaps because of the famous wines and cheeses of France, you would think of grapes and cows that are found all around the country. Although these are very key ingredients to French culture, I decided to talk about something else that I thought would be very interesting to learn about. It has eight legs and a beak, but doesn’t have any bones and lives in the ocean. Can you guess what it could be?

The octopus! I’ve wanted to learn more about this sea creature since I saw it in the fish market of Marseille (mah-say), the largest port-city in France. Did you know that the French have two different names for the octopus? While some call it a pieuvre (pee-uh-vhuh) and others a poulpe (poo-lp), all agree that the octopus is important in French cuisine. By talking to a fisherman that catches and sells octopuses, I was able to learn a lot about these unique sea animals.

What does this creature or plant look like?

To me, octopuses look very weird. I think they almost look like aliens you see in science-fiction movies! There are many different types of octopuses. The common octopus is found in the Mediterranean Sea as well as in the Atlantic Ocean. This octopus has two eyes on its head joined to a body of eight legs, also known as tentacles. These tentacles have “suckers” that look like suction cups to sense taste. Octopuses also have “beaks” that lie under their head where their tentacles begin to spread out. They use these beaks while eating to break open shells of their prey.

Octopuses also have no bones! Without a skeleton, they are able to swim through tight spaces in the water very easily. Did you know that octopuses also have not one, not two, but three hearts? Many octopuses also come in different colors and patterns. Have you seen an octopus before? What did it look like?

How did I feel when I saw it?

At first, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I saw a slimy animal moving around in a small, open container. A few seconds later, I realized that it was an octopus. Before this experience, I only saw octopuses on television shows. The octopus did not seem happy to be in this container at all, as it was trying to move its tentacles toward the edge and escape. But each time that it almost escaped, the fisherman picked the octopus back up and put it back in the container. The octopus’s head also kept becoming bigger then smaller as it breathed the air and let it back out again.

Where does it live?

The common octopus lives all around the Mediterranean Sea, but also in the Atlantic Ocean. Most of these octopuses are bottom dwellers, meaning that they live at the lowest part of the sea or ocean and feed on prey such as shrimp, clams and crabs that also live on the bottom. Many octopuses also live in coral reefs to hide from predators.

How does it use its environment to survive?

Octopuses easily adapt to their environments. Their three hearts, efficient gills and blood full of nutrients make it easy for octopuses to live in many parts of oceans and seas. Because they don’t have a skeleton, octopuses can also swim through small cracks in rocks and corals on the seafloor. Some can also be camouflaged by changing the colors and patterns on their skins to avoid predators!

What can harm this creature or plant? Are we worried about it?: 

In its natural habitat, the octopus has predators that it must avoid to survive, like sharks or eels. Because they are able to live in small spaces and blend into their environment, they can hide from these predators. If they cannot hide, octopuses can also squirt black ink to confuse their predators and swim away quickly.

Despite these natural ways of hiding from predators, octopuses don’t live too long. Most only live between 12-18 months. After mating season in early spring, the female octopus releases hundreds of thousands of eggs. After the eggs hatch, the parent octopuses take care of their new offspring. During this time, the parent octopuses become so busy that they do not eat. As a result, most parents die after the first month of their eggs hatching.

Currently, the common octopus is not in extreme danger. Even though people around the world hunt and eat octopus, these sea creatures are plentiful. However, there could be a problem if overfishing and pollution increased.

Port of Marseilles. where octopuses are brought in after being caught by fishermen

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