Dr. Sacks’s favorite creatures are cephalopods: squids, octopus, cuttlefish, nautilus–all those mollusks that have neurons not only in their heads (cephalo-) but in their feet (-pods) as well. They’re very smart. Dr. Sacks says, “Cuttlefish have enormous eyes, they are curious and, I think, even affectionate. One cannot help feeling that they have individuality and consciousness, and the basis of an inner life. Cephalopods can learn by observation, as higher mammals do. They are richly endowed with nerve cells: an octopus has 300 million or more neurons, about half in its cerebral ganglia, and the rest distributed among its tentacles. I like cephalopods because they are so removed from us and yet, in some fundamental ways, so like us. They are my favorite aliens.”
Not to mention, they like to swim by jet propulsion (Dr. Sacks has to rely on flippers). And they like to surround themselves with vast clouds of ink (Dr. Sacks was sometimes called “Inky” as a boy, since he was fond of a fountain pen even then). They have quite sophisticated eyes, and their blood is blue. They are better at cloaking themselves than a Klingon warbird. We could go on and on.
So if we were in charge, June would be National Cephalopod Month. You could watch the amazing NOVA program “Kings of Camouflage,” featuring Roger Hanlon of the Marine Biology Lab in Woods Hole.
Or you could learn more about octopuses in a gorgeously illustrated new book, Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate by Jennifer Mather, Roland Anderson, and James Wood.
Of course, you should do so while wearing your Welcome Squid Overlords t-shirt. We’re not quite sure how many humans are on the planet these days, but there are even more squid. Just sayin.’
P.S.: Whew! Squid fossil mystery solved at last.
P.P.S.: For a spectacular meta-list of cephalopods online, check here.