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Most familiar "octopods" (general term for octopuses and their close relatives) live in relatively shallow parts of the ocean. They are predators, who can benefit from the abundant food, such as fishes, crabs, and shrimps, in habitats such as shallow coral reefs.
Most octopods are nocturnal. They hunker in dens during the daytime, and cruise the ocean bottom at night in search of prey.
Octopods belong to a group of squishy-bodied animals called cephalopods. These also include squids, cuttlefishes and nautiluses.
Like most other cephalopods, octopods have eight arms with suckers. They have hard beaks for biting prey, and large eyes that provide good vision. Their remarkable capabilities to change color and shape quickly make them masters of camouflage. Their unusual intelligence sets them apart from other invertebrates.
Are more octopods known from shallow water because it's better habitat or because they are easier to find? The deep ocean is challenging to access, and therefore less studied.
Today, innovations in technology have allowed scientists to explore the depths. Research ships are equipped with sonar. Meanwhile, ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) and manned submersibles are equipped with cameras and sampling devices on robotic arms. Even people on shore can get their eyes on the deep sea. This is thanks to live video and data feeds to computers.
Increased access to the depths has shed new light on mysteries of deep ocean life, including on octopods who range more than 4,000 meters down. That is the depth of about 300 school buses end on end.
Why would octopods go that deep and how do they survive? By continuing to probe the deep sea, zoologists are trying to understand more about which animals live there and how they get by in conditions of high pressure and low light and temperature.
Zoologist Mike Vecchione harnesses data collected from museum specimens, live ship feeds and DNA analysis to study deep sea octopods and other cephalopods.
Learn more about his discoveries in the "Smithsonian Science How" webcast. It airs on Thursday, June 8, 2017. During Deep Ocean Discovery - Octopods and Squids, at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT on the Q?rius website, Mike will take you on a journey to the deep sea while answering your questions live. You can also get teaching resources to use with the webcast.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How do robots help scientists study octopods?
Write your answers in the comments section below