Meet he’e the octopus

Here in Hawaii we have several species of octopus but usually people only see two of the most common, larger species. They are also known as tako which is the Japanese word for octopus. The ornate octopus usually only comes out at night time and the day octopus is active during the day but also lays eggs at night and sometimes hunts at night.

Octopus are truly amazing very intelligent creatures. Every year science is finding out new interesting facts about he’e. Recently it was shown with DNA testing that the octopus has special DNA unlike any other known creature on the planet!

Octopus are cephalopods like squid but they completely lack all bones and their bodies are very soft so they can change shape easily and fit into very tight spaces. Octopus also have eight arms where as other cephalopods have ten arms.

Every octopus arm has its own small brain, and can act all on its own! This is truly amazing and is one of the only creatures known to be able to do this. The arm can catch food all on its own without any thought process going through the central brain in its head.

If an arm is cut off a new arm will grow back and the severed arm can live on its own for weeks!

Octopus change color and shape rapidly by using muscles in its skin that squeeze color cells up and down. The large night octopus which can grow up to 30 inches long is usually a golden brown with white dots and has long legs. The day octopus has much shorter legs and can change colors in less than a second to white, dark brown to grey. It can instantly change shapes to be perfectly smooth or bumpy to mimic a rough part of the coral reef.

He’e the octopus has three hearts and two sets of gills to breath with! It can also fill its entire head (mantle) with sea water and shoot it out of their round breathing tube called a siphon. This propels the octopus forward quickly to escape predators. Octopus eat about anything they can catch that is smaller then they are! With eight legs that can “think” on their own just about all small creatures on the reef are eaten by he’e including hard cowry shells.

The octopus has a hard sharp beak on the underside of its head and it uses this beak to drill right through the top of the hard cowry shell. It then lifts the entire top of the shell off and eats the soft cowry animal inside!

If you chase an octopus you will know that it can send a jet of dark brown ink out of its siphon to hide in, and escape. I have chased he’e for over ten minutes and counted eight different jets of ink it sent out. Once it was finally out of ink the octopus went over to a beer bottle that was sitting on the sea floor and squeezed inside of it to hide!

If one is interested in sea creatures then he’e the octopus would be the best creature in the ocean to study because it is so unusual and intelligent I think we have just barely discovered all of its unique behaviors and abilities.

You can go to my underwater educational web page at and see some amazing slow motion movies of he’e in my video The Worlds Guide to Hawaiian Reef Creatures and also have your kids sign up with our non profit to go visit the octopus in person in our marine science camp at

Aloha from under the surf!


Terry Lilley, Marine Biologist, Hanalei, Kauai,,, All Photographs © 2016 Terry Lilly


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