Elora Explora loves scuba diving and capturing the wonders of the sea. Her Instagram page is full of encounters with various underwater creatures, both dangerous and beautiful.
She travels all over the world and has witnessed some of the most beautiful locals and creatures imaginable. Her most remarkable interaction with marine animals, however, involves a tiny creature hidden inside a seemingly-innocuous conch shell.
When she first found the shell, Elora didn’t know for sure that it was occupied. Then she saw two small eyes poking out the top of it. They belonged to an octopus, one of a vast group of eclectic invertebrates known as cephalopods. She wanted to coax the little guy out in order to film him. So she pulled out a small piece of bait fish.
Reach for It
She held out a fish in front of the tiny octopus’ shell and he grabbed for it. Then, after pulling it from her grasp, he reached out to touch her hand with another one of his spindly tentacles. It wasn’t a thankful gesture, it was a curious one and it surprised both of them so much that they pulled back.
Octopi are remarkable creatures. They have three hearts, eight tentacles, and two eyes. They can use their water siphons to propel them backward and push away nuisances. If threatened, they can camouflage into many different surfaces or release a cloud of ink to confuse predators. They are also extremely malleable and can thread themselves through a hole not much larger than the diameter of its eyeball.
The diver went home, feeling a bit disappointed in the interaction. Deep down, Elora felt like there was more to that light touch than simple curiosity. She wondered what might have happened if she’d stayed. The thoughts lingered as she prepared for bed. The next day, she resolved to dive again and see if she could find the same octopus.
Remarkably, when she returned to the shell, she found the octopus waiting for her once again. She took a tiny bait fish, held it close to the shell and waited. This time, not only did the octopus grab her finger, but he also tried to pull her finger into his little conch home with him. Tiny as he was, Elora was fairly surprised at how strong he was.
Egbert the Octopus
The second meeting prompted Elora to learn as much as she could about octopi. Her lessons revealed that octopi are actually much more intelligent than most people believe. She was curious if she could teach the friendly little cephalopod. She named the octopus Egbert and began to come back daily to see if he was truly that smart.
Octopi have been around for millions of years. In that time, they have evolved an intelligence unseen in any other invertebrate. Octopi can exhibit learned behavior through conditioning and can be given complex tasks whose processes they retain even after the reward is given. Like dogs, cats, elephants, birds, and monkeys, they also exhibit play behavior.
Scientists have witnessed this behavior with octopi in tanks. The octopus in question picked up an empty water bottle, shot it across the tank with its own siphon, then waited for the filter to push the bottle back and did it again. This play behavior is unique and very telling. It is also a sure sign of intelligence.
Octopi are often known to be able to squeeze their bodies into small spaces in order to keep safe. They have been witnessed hiding in conch shells, coconut shells, under rocks, and even in empty cans and jars. They have also been witnessed being able to open those jars. Knowing this, Elora began bringing a jar with her on her dives.
Elora would then hide the fish in the jar and as soon as he saw it, Egbert leaped from his shell and settled onto the jar lid, twisting his tiny body until he successfully opened it and extricated the fish.
Clever as Egbert was, he was still clearly a novice when it came to a lot of things. At one point, Elora gave him a fish and he tucked it under his tentacles, but then couldn’t fit back into his shell. As he sat on top, trying to eat, the damselfish around him tried to take the fish. He then proceeded to punch them away with his tentacles.
Eventually, Egbert got so annoyed with the pecking damselfish that he crawled out of his shell and walked across the seafloor on tiny leg-like tentacles until he was some distance away. Red as a lobster, he spat out the fish and jetted back home, content in the fact that he could be left alone at last.
Too Many Guests
Unfortunately, there were an awful lot of people snorkeling and swimming in and around Egbert’s tiny house. So when Elora returned a few days later, the octopus became increasingly shy, even in the face of free food. Elora left for about a week but when she returned to see how Egbert was doing, she found something frightening.
When Elora returned to the spot, she noticed that both Egbert and his whole conch shell were missing. She was heartbroken and even had a nightmare about the little guy being squished by all the fish and divers in the area. She was nervous that some person had tried to pick him up unbidden and scared him off for good.
For the next few days, Elora swam around the area looking for Egbert. She finally located the little guy just outside the area where the swimmers and kayaks had been. Elora was thrilled that her friend was safe and that he seemed to remember her when she reached out to him. He trusted her so much that he would reach out and pull her hand towards him to feel her better.
Octopi like Egbert have hundreds of tiny suction cups along the underside of their eight tentacles. These suckers are exceptionally sensitive and can detect the most minute vibrations in the water around them. They use these tentacles to explore the world and Egbert wanted to explore Elora more closely.
In one of the videos that Elora used to document her encounters with Egbert, the tiny octopus elicits her help in moving a small log he himself had been trying to move. He does this by pulling her finger towards the log and indicating, teaching her how to roll it over. Beneath it were a clutch of tiny shells and crabs which Egbert then grabbed up. He had convinced her to help him hunt.
Over the course of their friendship, Elora brought Egbert different objects to test his reaction to them. He wasn’t very interested in empty shells, but the mirror and the elastic hairband she wore on her wrist were of particular interest to the curious critter. He was friendliest most unusual octopus she’d ever encountered.
Egbert proves that making friends with an octopus is almost as easy as making friends with a dog. They are curious and respond to tenderness as opposed to brashness. They also have individual personalities. Some are shy, some are brave, some are aggressive. By and large, though, they are friendly towards those who are friendly towards them.
Even when Elora went on vacation for a few days and didn’t return right away, Egbert still managed to remember her. When she returned to find him, Egbert swam up to her instead and touched her foot. He knew who she was and was glad to see his familiar friend. They continue to be friends today.