The Seashore Parade by Muriel Lewin Guberlet, Illustrations by Jan Ogden. 1942.
WHO IS AFRAID OF THE DEVIL FISH?
HE IS AS SCARED AS YOU ARE
It is hard to believe that the nudibranchs and devil fish belong to the same group of animals as the snails but scientist tell us that they do. The devil fish or octopus has the worst reputation of any animal on the seashore although I do not think he is as wicked or does as much damage as the shipworm or moon snail. Of course you have heard of the evil doings of the devil fish. He would not be called a devil fish if anyone liked him. But he really is not such a bad fellow. To tell the truth he is more frightened of people than they are of him and unless he is trapped he darts away when human beings are near.
Many thrilling legends and stories have been told about the devil fish. Victor Hugo in his book "Toilers of the Sea" gives us an exciting account of a man meeting a devil fish in a cave and the motion pictures have featured him many times. Most of the tales are far more thrilling than true but they have made people familiar with the habits of the octopus.
Although the devil fish is only a distant relation of the clams and snails, he is like them in many ways. However, he is far superior to the rest of the family in intelligence and structure.
He shows his relationship to the snails by having a mantle, radula, and similar internal organs. The eyes of the devil fish are almost as highly developed as ours. In the devil fish the foot of his snail ancestors is divided into eight long arms arranged around the head. Extending the length of his arms are two rows of suckers. The shell of his snail cousins has completely disappeared but he has a mantle which covers the body like a cloak. The head is marked off from the rest of the body by a deep crease in the mantle.
Most of the members of the snail family cannot swim but the devil fish darts through the water very rapidly. He does this in a clever way. The mantle of the devil fish is muscular and as it expands it takes in water. As it contracts, the water is expelled through the siphons with such force the animal is shot backward like a rocket. The trouble with this system of swimming is that the animal always faces the opposite direction from the way he is going. If the devil fish wishes to move forward he crawls on the sea bottom by using his arms.
When the devil fish is hungry, he either crawls or swims about with his arms twisting and turning in every direction. He grabs a fish or crab with his arms and the suckers on his arms hold it until he is ready for his meal. The victim does not have a chance to get away when he is being hugged by eight arms and by hundreds of suckers. Should the devil fish catch a crab he is careful to take hold of him from behind so he cannot pinch. He has probably learned from bitter experience that it is wise to keep away from a crab's pincher claws. The devil fish kills the prey by biting it with its parrot-like jaws.
In northern waters the devil fish are not large. Most of them are not more than two feet when in a resting position but coming toward a person with the arms outspread a devil fish looks like a monster. Some tropical species are huge.
No animal of the seashore is as clever at hiding himself as the octopus. When resting on the sand or lying in wait of prey, he changes his
color to match the background on which he happens to be. In a twinkling of an eye he can change from chocolate to red or to gray and if he crawls over rocks the skin takes on the shape of the rocks by appearing to have lumps and ridges in it. Because of the ability of the devil fish to change his color the body is almost invisible under most conditions but when food is in sight the animal is excited and becomes bright colored.
The most remarkable trick the devil fish performs is throwing ink in the faces of his enemies. He carries an ink sack insidte the mantle and when he wants to hide or to get away from friend or foe he pulls the cork from the bottle and squirts the ink. This makes the water black and dirty and the devil fish escapes in a cloud of ink, so to speak. About the only animal the devil fish cannot fool is the whale. When they have a fight the whale always wins.
In spite of having a few bad traits we must give the devil fish credit for being a devoted mother. She selects a hollow in a rock just below low tide mark for her nest and places her eggs carefully in it. She guards the eggs closely and only leaves the nest to get food. The eggs are placed in small cases on short stalks which look like bunches of white grapes. While the eggs are developing the mother brings fresh air to the eggs every day by moving them with her arms and by spraying water over them. After seven or eight weeks the eggs begin to hatch and then the mother takes no more care of her young. The newly hatched octopus is very different in appearance from his parents.
Another animal with a bad reputation is the squid. A squid is similar to a devil fish but the squid has ten arms instead of eight (so much the better to grab with) and has a long round mantle which encloses the internal organs. At the extreme end of the mantle is a fin. The mantle is held firm by a pen at which all that is left of the snail shell. Because the squid is long and slender he can dart through the water even faster than a devil fish. He has two great staring eyes and a parrot-like beak.
this is only here so the last box doesn't butt up against the edge of the screen