In captivity, the octopus is renowned for its ‘unruly’ behaviour, for example, tampering with or blocking outlet valves, causing its tank to overflow. And it can be very difficult to keep contained. It can squeeze its boneless body through a space not much bigger than its eye—just sufficient for its only hard part, the parrot-like beak, to pass.

“Inky” the octopus achieved international notoriety in 2016 when he escaped from New Zealand’s National Aquarium. ‘Tracks’ found next morning showed Inky had forced himself through a small gap at the top of his enclosure, then travelled across the floor to a drainpipe and on to the sea.

The octopus brain has approximately 500 million neurons—about the same as a dog’s. Given its relatively short lifespan (1-2 years), Harvard Professor Peter Godfrey-Smith dubbed its braininess an evolutionary paradox—like “spending a vast amount of money to do a PhD, and then you’ve got two years to make use of it…the accounting is really weird.”

Two-thirds of the neurons are in the limbs (or tentacles, often referred to as arms or legs) giving each ‘a mind of its own.’ A severed tentacle will continue to grope along the seabed. If it finds food, the lonesome limb will grab it (octopus suckers also have the power of smell and taste) and try to pass the food to where the mouth would normally be. Incredibly, an octopus can regrow a tentacle to replace exactly the length that was severed—neurons, suckers, taste receptors, muscles, chromatophores (the amazing colour-changing structures in its skin) and all.

This ability to regenerate lost tissue, organs, and whole appendages has attracted much research interest (the medical ramifications for ourselves could be huge). While much of the complex biochemistry is still a mystery, what is known is that a “cascade of chemical signals” is involved in the “orchestrating” of multiple “specific steps.” These trigger and control, for example, the arrival of a mass of stem cells and blood vessels at the injury site to ensure that the arm is progressively restored. In a biochemical ‘cascade,’ each step is dependent on the one before it, raising a problem for the evolutionary view of origins. A missing arm can be completely regenerated in roughly 100 days.

If any step is missing or faulty the system will not work. So how could such a marvellous repair-and-regeneration system—which is there in anticipation of limb loss—have ever arisen via evolution, particularly when evolution is ‘blind,’ with no plans, foresight, or goals?

In a 2018 paper, 33 evolutionary scientists even seriously argued that octopus biology would have needed an input of genes from an extra-terrestrial source! They wrote that such things as a “sophisticated” nervous system, “intelligent complexity,” eight prehensile arms, camera-like eyes similar to ours, and instantaneous camouflage via the ability to change colour and body shape “appear suddenly on the evolutionary scene.” The authors also noted that “cephalopod phylogenetics, that is, ‘evolutionary trees’ for octopuses, squid, etc., is highly inconsistent and confusing.”

Octopuses can match their background (eg: a coral reef) by instantly changing colour so perfectly, even a keen observer loses sight of them. Their skin has been described as being “like a pixelated video screen,” with the top layer containing tens of thousands of tiny pockets of different colours that can be independently opened and closed so as to exhibit the colour scheme of the moment. Underlying that surface display is a layer of reflective cells stacked like a diffraction grating to create iridescence, with yet another layer beneath them to further bounce back incoming light. In the blue-ringed octopuses (Hapalochlaena spp.), the colour is aposematic or warning, in this case that they have a highly venomous bite.

The camouflage is not static—the skin really can display flashing pulses of colour like a video screen, seamlessly incorporating the passing shadows from clouds, the dappled shimmering of the seabed as waves scatter the sun’s rays, or even forked lightning. Added to all that, some octopuses can shape-shift so as to mimic the form and movement of other creatures (eg: the banded sea snake, and lionfish) in an apparent effort to deter would-be predators.

Octopuses have glands that produce a toxic ink which is then stored in large sacs. When the animal is alarmed, it squirts the ink in a powerful jet in one direction that simultaneously propels the animal in the opposite direction, effectively clouding the water to confuse a potential threat while fleeing to safety.

With no bones or shell, octopus arms are indeed a muscular hydrostat, with tightly packed muscle fibres arranged into transverse, longitudinal and oblique muscles. Selective contractions of transverse and longitudinal muscles allow bending (in any direction, at any point on the arm, and able to propagate along it) and elongation/shortening (by up to 70%!), while co-contractions stiffen the arm. Contractions of oblique muscles allow twisting.

In tandem with the octopus’s capacity to greatly deform its entire body it can ‘pour’ itself into tight spaces.

The suckers on the arms of the octopus are extremely strong, enabling the octopus to grab and hold prey with amazing strength. Each sucker also has its own memory, allowing the octopus to have an astounding total memory. For example, if an octopus is placed in a tight enclosure it has never been in before, experiments have shown that the octopus will take approximately 12 minutes to escape. If placed in the same enclosure again, the octopus will be out in about 90 seconds. What enables the octopus to escape so swiftly the second time it is placed in the enclosure? Each suction cup remembered exactly where and in what sequence it was placed during the first escape. Thus, the octopus can “remember” and choose the correct path to the escape. Each sucker is also equipped with its own sense of smell. This ability helps the octopus locate its next potential meal with great speed and ease. Each sucker also has its own ability to taste allowing the octopus to taste-test its captured prey before devouring it.

Unlike our blood, which is red due to our iron-containing oxygen transporter haemoglobin, the octopus uses a copper-containing protein called hemocyanin. Although haemoglobin is considered a more efficient transporter of oxygen, it is not so at lower temperatures where these animals live. In these low temperature, low-oxygen pressure environments, hemocyanin has the upper hand.

To compensate for the otherwise lowered oxygen transport efficiency and increased viscosity, cephalopods need to circulate their blood at higher pressures, hence the presence of three hearts!

They also have nine brains! An octopus’s central brain—located between its eyes—doesn’t control its every move. Instead, two thirds of the animal’s neurons are in its arms. Each arm contains a brain of its own. This enables octopus arms to operate somewhat independently from the animal’s central brain. The central brain tells the arms in what direction and how fast to move, but the instructions on how to reach are embedded in each arm. Octopus arms can also work autonomously when they’re searching, like when they’re looking for food under a rock.

When we examine the chances of evolving three hearts, nine brains and eight independent limbs full of suckers that secrete a chemical signal to override the tentacles’ suction-cup reflexes so that each limb doesn’t stick to another limb by mistake, we can only conclude that —it is impossible. Add to that the essential abilities of camouflage which a shelled animal has no need of, we would have expected that the octopus would quickly have been killed off while trying to evolve these defense capabilities.

How more sensible to believe that there is a living God, “which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein” (Acts 14:15).