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The Devil Fish – Octopus

Water covers about three-fourths of the earth, appearing in oceans, seas, lakes, streams, ponds, etc. All these water bodies contain a wide variety of flora and fauna. One such animal that is most easily found in the oceans is the octopus. The octopus is commonly known as the devil fish as its external appearance is terrifying enough to frighten a human and other animals. The octopus belongs to the genus Mollusca and the class Cephalopoda. The order it belongs to is Octopoda and it is completely marine in habitat.

The octopus has two eyes and four pairs of arms and, like other cephalopods, its body is bilaterally symmetrical. It has a beak and the mouth is in the central position of the hands. The exoskeleton is absent, so it can be squeezed into small cracks. The intelligence is very well developed and it is probably the most intelligent animal of all invertebrates. It inhabits large areas in the oceans, but is mainly found among coral reefs. To defend themselves from enemies they basically hide or expel a black material or show color changing activity called camouflage. All octopuses are generally poisonous, but only the small blue-ringed octopuses are harmful to man and lead him to the heavenly abode. About 300 species of octopuses are known today.

Octopuses are very clearly identified by their eight dangerous arms, each of which carries a clownfish. Their arms are very different from those found in other cephalopods such as squid and cuttlefish. They are completely soft-bodied with no signs of an exoskeleton like the shell found in the Nautilus and cuttlefish. They have a beak-like structure similar to that of a parrot but very small in size and is the only hard structure present in their body. Their soft body allows them to hide under small areas when attacked. They have a very short lifespan, but some species can live up to six months. The giant North Pacific octopus can live up to five years under certain conditions. Their lifespan is basically affected by reproduction. Males only live for a few months after mating and die later and females die as soon as their eggs hatch. Females show parental care for their eggs and do not feed until their eggs hatch, but starvation is not the cause of their death. The two optic glands secrete endocrine substances responsible for programmed cell death. It has been found that if these optic glands are surgically removed, the octopus survives for many months after spawning and if then starved then it can starve to death.

There are three hearts in octopuses. Two are responsible for pumping blood from both gills and the third is responsible for pumping blood from the entire body. Their blood carries a copper-containing protein hemocyanin, which is the oxygen carrier as well as the blood pigment. Hemocyanin is a much more efficient oxygen carrier compared to the vertebrate oxygen carrier hemoglobin. Haemocyanin is dissolved in the plasma and is not transported to the red blood cells of vertebrates and gives a blue color to the blood. Octopuses extract water from their mantle cavity and like other molluscs have finely divided and highly vascularized gills that are present on either the outer or inner surface of the body.

Octopuses are very intelligent and this is a matter of debate among scientists. Experiments have shown that they have short-term and long-term memory as well. Although they have a very short life span but they do learn and it has not been proven until now whether young people have innate behaviors or not. They have a very complex nervous system. Two-thirds of the neurons are in the arms, and the arms have remarkable powers of autotomy. The arms also show complex reflex actions. Laboratory experiments have shown that they learn to distinguish shapes and sizes and also break aquariums in search of food.

The defense mechanism of octopuses basically involves hiding under any suitable place so that they are not detected by their predators. Another mechanism includes rapid escape from predators and they also secrete inky fluids, show camouflage and break their arms which are also part of their defense mechanism. Most octopuses love to secrete an inky liquid into the water as part of defense against their enemies and this inky liquid forms a cloud and confuses the prey and the octopuses run away. This ink liquid consists of a chemical substance called melanin, which is responsible for the color in human skin and hair. The inky liquid reduces the effectiveness of the predator’s scent and gives the octopuses a chance to escape. The chromatophores present in the epidermal layer of the skin of octopuses contain red, yellow, orange and black pigments that make the skin color similar to the background and the animal is protected from enemies. Iridophores and leukophores are the reflective cells and are also responsible for displaying warning color. They also cut off their arms when attacked and their broken arms regenerate later.

The act of reproduction in octopuses is very different. During reproduction the male uses his special arm called the heterocotyl and transports the spermatophores through it into the mantle cavity of the female. In some benthic octopuses the third arm is a heterocotyl. Males usually die after a few months of mating. In some species females store sperm until their eggs have matured. When the eggs are fertilized, females lay about 200,000 eggs, and the number varies between species. Females generally attach the eggs in the form of long strings to any solid substrate. Females also show parental care. They protect their eggs from predators and also provide air currents to the eggs so they can get the right amount of oxygen. Mother octopuses do not hunt or feed until their eggs hatch, and they become very weak by the time their eggs hatch and can easily be killed by predators. The young larvae that hatch from the eggs move to the surface of the sea and feed on plankton like copepods. This time is very critical as they can be easily killed by their enemies when they get big enough, return to the bottom and the cycle repeats.

The sense of sight is very limited in octopuses and they can easily distinguish the polarization of light. Color detection varies between species. The two sensory organs in the brain called statocysts help the octopus detect its body’s orientation. The autonomic response keeps the pupil in a horizontal position. They have a very good sense of touch. The gorse present on the arms are generally the chemoreceptors that help the octopus taste the substance it is actually touching. The arms also contain voltage sensors to act as autoreceptors, but their actual role needs further attention from researchers. They move either by crawling or swimming. They crawl slowly. Jet propulsion performed by them is their fastest mode of locomotion followed by swimming and crawling. Octopuses were worshiped by ancient people. They are often consumed as food by people of many cultures. The Japanese and Hawaiian people are very fond of octopus as it is a very important part of their food. They are also used as pets by many people.

Nature has provided a number of special tactics for the octopus to enjoy its life comfortably in its habitat.

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