I’m reading a lot of newspapers and magazines lately that are encouraging us to visit zoos, aquariums, animal parks, and natural history museums with our children as part of education and distraction during isolation. What a great project! So, I thought I’d share something with you about an amazing animal you might not appreciate as it is not a warm fuzzy pet you can cuddle on a cold evening. Recently, I read Sy Montgomery’s book, a National Book Finalist, titled: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness. Yep. Soul. And yep, octopus! Montgomery is a naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and author of 20 books about nature and animals. What she did not expect to happen when she began studying octopuses (that’s the correct plural of octopus) was that she would become enamored as she was informed about these magnificent, solitary denizens of the ocean. She actually became a friend to an octopus and then another as she studied them, just as you would with a dog or cat.
Montgomery believes the octopus has a soul. Like all sentient creatures, it feels emotions. Let’s examine some of the wonderful attributes of the octopus. It can weigh as much as a man and still pour itself into a hole the size of an orange. The octopus tastes with its skin. On its great arms, the giant Pacific octopus has a total of 1,600 suckers through which it can draw prey or creatures. One sucker on a giant Pacific can lift 30 pounds of prey or food. Yes, octopuses can bite and inject a toxin as well as saliva that will dissolve human flesh. The giant Pacific octopus is one of the fastest growing animals on the planet and you never hear this. One of the most interesting attributes of the octopus is its ability to spray ink! You heard me! Yes, an octopus will spray an ink like substance if disturbed or simply questioning your right to be in its domain, near its cave. Many a caretaker has had this experience. Kind of like a toddler spraying a squirt gun for fun. Speaking of toddlers, the octopus can open a child-proof bottle of pills treating it as a toy!
The octopus has blue blood, not red. It mysteriously changes its outer color when trying to camouflage from predators in the sea. They do this by creating a pattern of light and dark against any background making them entirely invisible for the prey. An octopus has three hearts and one eye. An octopus egg is the size of a grain of rice! The mature octopus might not live beyond three years.
However, as Montgomery demonstrates in her book, and is concurred by many scientists, the octopus probably has the intelligence of a three-year-old human. That makes these guys and gals much smarter than their family of squids, mollusks, slugs, and clams. Clams have no brains at all. What is amazing in the book and what you will resonate with as you read is Montgomery’s relationship with the octopuses she studied and befriended, first with Athena and then with Octavia. These relationships are tender and mutually demonstrated, as they might be with a dog or a cat. She concludes, “They have changed my life forever. I love them, and will love them always, for they have given me a great gift: a deeper understanding of what it means to think, to feel, and to know.”
Could the exploration of an animal mostly unseen and under appreciated, except for charming cartoons, help us to see more of God? Why not? I should take time now to investigate the wonders of creation and if I can do some of this through the eyes of a child, it is all-the-more a time well-spent!
Besides Montgomery’s engrossing book, you might like theologian Elizabeth Johnson’s Ask the Beasts for an intriguing discussion of Darwin and the God of Love.
You can make a visit to the zoo or aquarium, a spiritual experience in appreciation of God’s extraordinary creatures who mystify us and share our sentient DNA, and who, as Montgomery convincingly argues, have some kind of soul, praising a Creator who made us both.