Blue-Ringed Octopus. Genus: Hapalochlaena.

"The Blue-Ringed Octopus gets its name from its defense mechanism. If one of us is provoked, we turn yellow, and our spots pulse with brilliant blue rings. Muscular contractions in our skin stimulate layers of different pigment cells, which expand and contract to collectively change our color. While many cephalopods change their color to camouflage themselves, I change my color to warn predators. We can also manipulate the texture and shape of our skin for the same purposes.

Our blue rings are meant to tell predators that we’re poisonous and should be left alone. We aren’t bluffing– a type of bacteria that lives in our salivary glands produces a toxin that is thousands of times more poisonous than cyanide. This toxin is delivered by a bite from our sharp beak, which is designed for breaking down the crabs and small fish that we eat."

Mantis Shrimp. Order: Stomatopoda.

"The anterior legs of some species of Mantis Shrimp have been modified into powerful “boxing gloves,” which we use to crack open tasty hard-shelled prey, including small crabs and clams. The anterior legs of other species, however, are sharp claws, which we use to quickly spear or snag unsuspecting prey from within our dens. These claws are used on soft-bodied animals, such as small fish and small shrimp.

We are all able to move each of our eyes independently. Each eye has two pupils, instead of one, so each eye has binocular vision. This affords us excellent depth perception for striking at our prey. And in addition to the visible spectrum, we can also see infrared, ultraviolet, and polarized light, an ability that is useful for spotting transparent or camouflaged prey." 

Portuguese Man-of-War. Physalia physalis.

"The Portuguese Man-of-War is often mistaken for a jellyfish, but we are actually a floating colony of individual organisms called zooids. We have three varieties of zooids on board; one type specialized for paralyzing prey, one type for digestion, and another for reproduction. Atop the colony is a sail which we inflate with carbon monoxide and nitrogen to keep us afloat and to catch the wind.

  1. Our long tentacles are coated with nematocysts, specialized stinging cells for stunning prey. A barb is stored inside-out in a venom-filled chamber.
  2. When the cell’s trigger is tripped, the cell opens and the barb unfurls, firing a poisoned tether into our prey. Millions of stinging cells work together in this way to hold and paralyze prey.

Our tentacles expand and contract, rising up and down, to catch fish and other creatures, the Man-of-War’s principal prey. The immobilized prey is pulled up toward the sail where the colony’s gastrozooids spread over the victim to digest it."

Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium

The Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium of Tucson, AZ commissioned this suite of three illustrations for Toxicity and Other Amazing Adaptations, an exhibit highlighting the wide range of defense mechanisms in the animal kingdom. I had the pleasure of representing three very different invertebrates: the Blue-Ringed Octopus, the Mantis Shrimp, and the Portuguese Man O'War.

Graphite & Digital Media, 2012.