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Octopus is brought to Shell Museum

By Staff | Jan 15, 2009

Jim Ellis never thought he would come face to face with an octopus.

But that day came in a bizarre way the mild-mannered Ellis will soon not forget.

Ellis was visiting the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum last Monday when someone popped in carrying a large lightning welk shell.

Inside the roomy shell, clung a pygmy octopus.

Not an everyday marine guest to the museum, it was not long before a crowd gathered to check out the tiny eight-limbed fellow.

As everyone stooped over to peer at the pint-sized octopus, he/she suddenly decided to spit a gush of water from the shell. The water shot about three feet into the air before hitting Ellis just beneath his eye. Ellis stood stunned with his wife Joyce.

Ellis was not hurt.

“I have never seen a live one,” Joyce Ellis said.

Shell Museum Public Relations Manager Kathleen Hoover took the opportunity to educate and shared some details about their unexpected visitor.

“They’re very strong,” she said.

Hoover said the suckers attached to the arm of an octopus is like velcro. The pygmy octopus near Sanibel tend to be found in pen shells and giant cockle shells, she said.

Dr. Jose Leal, Executive Director of the Shell Museum, checked out the palm-sized octopus and explained a few more tidbits about the sea creature. He described how the octopus can mask themselves by shooting ink or camouflage themselves by changing the color of their flesh.

“They’re such intelligent creatures,” he said. “They’re just mind boggling. They are really the pinnacle of the mollusks.”

Shell Museum staff urged anyone who finds an octopus to leave it in the water. Because of their intelligence they are known to be aqua-like Houdinis and can escape out of most tanks. If they escape out of water, they will get dehydrated and die, Leal said.

The Shell Museum has a detailed display describing the octopus. To learn more about the octopus, call the Shell Museum at 395-2233.

A children’s octopus themed drawing program is being held Monday, Jan. 19 at the Shell Museum.