The octopus has recently become quite popular in the online world, but for some of us, it has always been a favorite. This notoriously clever cephalopod mollusk is one of the more uncommon sightings on Maui snorkeling tours, but if you’re lucky, you just might spot one. In fact, they’ve even been seen right here in the Lahaina Harbor, the departure point for our Maui ocean charters. The octopus is nothing if not surprising, and this is likely one of the reasons why it has become so popular.
The type of octopus that you’re most likely to see here is the Hawaiian day octopus, known as he’e in the Hawaiian language. He’e tends to be small, and generally a combination of brown and tan mottled hues. It typically lives anywhere from the shallow reef flats to the deep reef slopes as deep as 150 ft (45 m). As its name implies, this species is most active during the day, and will hide in its den where it can sleep at night. You’re much less likely to spot the night octopus, which is just as common, but nocturnal. Known as he‘e-makoko in Hawaiian, this species sports a rusty red hue, with spots of white. Unlike its diurnal cousin, the night octopus hunts at night and sleeps in its den throughout the day. Both species are small as octopus go, tending to grow to a maximum of 10 lbs (45 kg), and a span of two to three feet (0.9 m).
Both kinds of Hawaiian octopus can often be tracked back to their den by looking for a pile of broken crab and snail shells, which are remnants of their past meals usually found just outside their doorsteps, so to speak. These clever hunters will come up with all kinds of strategies for reaching their prey, and are widely considered the most intelligent of all invertebrates. In fact, scientists have documented many situations where an octopus learns from its experiences. Everyone knows its arms are nimble and capable, but fewer people know that its eyesight is particularly keen as well. It can easily detect changes in color and movement, which helps it locate both predator and prey.
One of the more popular adaptations of the octopus is the ability to change its skin color and even texture to blend in with its surroundings. This has been an invaluable ability, made possible by millions of pigment cells known as chromatophores, which expand or shrink to create color patterns. This ability helps it communicate with other octopuses, hide from predators or wait in ambush for unsuspecting prey that may wander nearby. When necessary, the octopus can spring into action, darting through the water to get to safety, or to grab that tasty crab that’s trying to escape. Their flexible bodies also allow them to squeeze into small spaces for the same purposes.
We hope that you’ll join us aboard our Molokini or Lanai snorkeling tour. If you’re lucky, patient, and have keen eyes, you may just spot one of these dynamic and elusive coral reef residents. If you need any assistance booking your trip, you’ll find our contact information at the bottom of the page. Just remember, if you book online, you will save 10% on all our activities.