Eat more octopus

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TFlorida Press Association logohere is hope on the horizon for stone crabbers who are fed up with octopus eating the stone crabs right out of their traps.

When he’s not busy developing algorithms for predicting the camouflage patterns of octopuses, new Mote Marine Laboratory researcher Dr. Noam Josef is studying the octopus/stone crab relationship.

On the surface, it’s pretty straightforward.

An octopus spots a stone crab in a trap, realizes it can’t get away, slithers into the trap and gobbles it down.

It’s a fate far more final than being pulled out of the water by a fishermen and having an arm snapped off before being tossed back into the water to grow a new one.

Unless they’re deep fried, local stone crabbers hate octopuses, which pay absolutely no attention whatsoever to state wildlife laws that prohibit tampering with traps.

Josef hopes to come up with ways to deter the lawless thieves from bellying up to the captive crab buffet.

But it won’t be easy.

Octopuses are smart. Very smart, Josef says.

They are the only invertebrates that solve problems on their own. They can even be trained for multiple complex tasks.

Eating a stone crab in a trap is like shooting fish in a barrel to an octopus.

Josef will be talking to local fishermen to find out how many of their stone crabs octopuses eat, how, when and where they eat them and how to stop them. In scientific terms, that’s quantifying, characterizing, strategizing and exterminating the slippery little devils.

He will spy on octopuses with video recorders positioned at crab traps to see how they get in and out of the underwater fast food swim-throughs.

And he plans to run an experiment (however obvious) on whether declawed stone crabs are more vulnerable to octopuses than crabs with claws.

At the same time, with Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition researcher David Fries, he will be working on developing flexible and biodegradable electronic displays that mimic octopus camouflage, which Mote says could be used in fashion (a shirt that goes from stripes to polka dots?), recreational diving (a wetsuit that blends in with its surroundings?), and even the military (a cloaking device for Jeeps?).

Octopuses and other cephalopods have complex skin with cells that contain pigment sacs which expand to display color and contract to hide color. Beneath the sacs is a protein layer that reflects, absorbs and diffuses light like a backlit LED screen.

The octopus controls the cells with its brain, so its color and pattern can change as fast as he can think it – one-tenth of a second – far faster than the laid-back chameleon, which uses hormones to change color.

With all that built-in technology, brainpower and sheer cunning, it seems a shame to fry up an octopus for dinner.

But when you’ve got no crabs, you’ve got no choice.

Pass the lemon butter.