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Missouri couple encounters rare find on Sanibel beach

By Staff | Feb 2, 2011

Larry Machuga took this photograph after he and his wife found an octopus tangled up in the surf.

During her first trip to the islands a decade ago, Renea Machuga of St. Louis, Mo. got hooked on shelling.

Since then, she and her husband Larry have returned to Sanibel once a year to roam the beaches looking for shells and to photograph wildlife and those iconic island sunsets — and on the first day of their annual trip this year, the Machugas happened upon a rare find indeed.

But it wasn’t a Junonia.

“We had been out on the beach most of the morning and were heading back up the beach toward the Island Beach Club where we are staying when I saw something move among the shells,” Machuga said, noting that it’s always the color that catches her eye first when she’s combing the beach for shells.

“This was different. I saw tiny shiny amber tentacles reaching over the top of a small white ark shell,” Machuga said. “Imagine my surprise when I realized I was looking at a very tiny octopus.”

That’s right — an octopus.

Machuga said she and her husband watched the creature try to work his way back to the water, crawling over the shells. But, being rather top-heavy, the octopus kept rolling upside down.

“At first I wasn’t sure if I should handle him or not. He was so tiny and looked so fragile. But when he kept getting himself upside down in the sand when crawling over the shells, I thought he might need a little help getting to the water,” Machuga said.

To document the extraordinary find, Larry took some photographs and, after introducing the octopus to some other beach combers, the Machugas helped him back into the surf.

“I have never seen anything like this on the beach on any of our trips to Sanibel,” Machuga said. “Hopefully, he made it to deeper waters where he will not be carried to shore again.”