Octopuses of the Gulf of Mexico

Yes, we've got them! (and yes, it's octopuses, not octopi)

The Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris)

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We may not be able to see them often, but octopuses are abundant in the Gulf of Mexico. The octopus may seem simple, but in reality, this animal is much more complicated and intelligent than is often assumed. Octopuses are mollusks, and unlike its clam, oyster, and squid relatives, the octopus has evolved to exist without a shell. It has eight arms covered in hooks or suckers, and its two gills, digestive organs, reproductive glands, brain, and three hearts live in its mantle. To accommodate for the low temperatures and low oxygen environment, octopuses use copper instead of iron to transfer oxygen. 

Not only is the octopus an expert at camouflage, it is also believed to be extremely intelligent, with brain patterns akin to those of dogs and even some primates. The octopus is deaf, but its developed nervous system and sensory organs allow for quality eyesight, smell, and touch. Although all octopuses are venomous and skilled at disguising, they are still vulnerable to sea predators and humans. 

The only type of octopus that frequents Texas waters is Octopus vulgaris, or the Common Octopus. These sea creatures only live up to a year or year and a half and grow up to four feet in length. As its name suggests, there are many Common Octopuses, particularly in tropical or temperate waters. However, they can be difficult to find, since they hide and camouflage themselves as they navigate the ocean floor. 

The greater Gulf of Mexico is home to more octopuses, including the Mexican Four-Eyed Octopus (Octopus maya) and the Pygmy Octopus (Octopus joubini). The Mexican Four-Eyed Octopus, sometimes referred to as the red octopus, resides solely along the Yucatan Peninsula, where its population is likely depleting due to overfishing. The Pygmy Octopus was named for its size, since it only grows up to 15 cm, and although they can be found in the Gulf of Mexico, they are often found in the Caribbean Sea. Due to the size of the Pygmy Octopus and scarcity of the Mexican Four-Eyed Octopus, both of these species can be difficult to find. 

Although they are not listed as threatened or endangered, the octopus does face several threats, including overfishing and habitat degradation and destruction from fishing and toxic chemicals. In order to preserve this fascinating and complicated sea creature, we must limit our fishing and protect our ocean waters.


Mara Asmis

Wildlife and Wild Places Intern

Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center

As the director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughter are working to visit every state park in Texas.

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