Nature photography, political rants, and Martyman laughs from the ten-time award-winning author of "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet," "Endangered Edens," and the "Time Is Irreverent" series.

Earth’s own Star Trek character

Marty’s photo of the day #2042: This photo will initially appear incomprehensible to your eyes. But read on—you are looking at something amazing! Earlier this month, Deb and I had two incredible octopus encounters in the Sea of Cortez. Last week, I posted a photo from our first encounter, where we had the privilege of holding four octopuses. The next day, Deb and I went back to the same place, but this time we wanted to just observe the octopuses, not catch them.

On this day the air was cold and windy, and the sea was rocking and rolling—causing numerous underwater sandstorms. Soon Deb spotted an octopus, in a den, under a rock that was roughly the size of a small duffle bag. The octopus spotted Deb as well, and I promptly moved beside my wife.

Octopuses are the world’s most intelligent invertebrates. Additionally, they can change colors and manipulate their bodies, like liquid, to get through incredibly small holes (That’s one of the reasons they should never be kept as pets—they will escape!). In this instance, Deb was almost certain she had found the same octopus she held for the majority of the time on the previous day. The octopus seemed to recognize her as well. He seemed curious about making physical contact, but was too timid to do so.

First the octopus looked at us from the den’s “front door.” Then the octopus squeezed out the “back door” and elevated just his eyes over the top of the rock. During the next 15 minutes, the octopus alternated looking at us from under the rock, in the front, and from above the rock, in the back. It was an amazing encounter.

Deb, unfortunately, got too cold and had to get out of the water. I decided to stay with the octopus, hoping he would eventually grow comfortable enough to reach out and touch my hand.

I continued snapping photos—most of which didn’t turn out, because the waves continually stirred up the sand. Eventually, the shutter button on my underwater camera started sticking (probably due to the sand), so the octopus and I parted ways.

Fast forward to two nights ago: Deb and I were watching the “Ocean Deep” episode, from the first season of the BBC’s Planet Earth. In that episode, a deep-water octopus took the shape of a rock. Suddenly it hit me. Our shallow-water octopus had done the same thing!

After Deb had gone ashore, I slowly reached around behind the octopus and blindly shot photos of him staring at me over the rock. When I initially looked at the photos, I thought something went wrong or that my camera had been fooled by the sand. I almost deleted them. Now, thanks to the BBC, I realize what happened. When the octopus looked at us from behind the rock, he changed his shape and texture to “become the rock.”

So that’s what you’re looking at here: Earth’s version of Odo, the shape-shifting character on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Is that cool, or what? For comparison, look at the photo I posted on December 13 (photo #2035), of what is likely the same octopus. In their normal state, octopuses are smooth.

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