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Blue ringed octopus project

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
16 June 2011
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Poking around in Victorian coastal tide pools is good fun. You can feel the sucker feet of a sea star as it walks over your hand, or watch crabs scuttle about grazing on algae. But one thing you should never do – and I remember being told this from a very young age – is bother a blue-ringed octopus. Blue-ringed octopuses (genus Hapalochlaena) are some of the most venomous marine animals in the world yet we don’t know much about them.

Southern Blue-ringed Octopus Southern Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) photographed in Port Phillip Bay during the day.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

There are currently four species of blue-ringed octopus recognised but MV curator Dr Julian Finn reckons he’s about to change this. He has just received a three-year grant from the Australian Biological Resources Study to sort out how many species there are worldwide. From his preliminary studies, he estimates there could be closer to 20 species with over half of these living in Australian waters.

With joint investigators Dr Mark Norman, Head of Sciences, Dr Jan Strugnell from La Trobe University, and Professor Chung Cheng Lu of National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan, Julian will use comparative anatomy and molecular techniques to confirm how many species there are. He’ll map the distribution of each species and produce an identification key to help others identify blue-ringed octopuses.

Blue-ringed octopus Southern Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) photographed in Port Phillip Bay at night.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Julian will also assay the venom of each species to determine which are the most toxic to humans. The bite of a blue-ringed octopus delivers a hit of tetrodotoxin which is found in the octopus’s saliva. Tetrodotoxin has a devastating effect on the nerve system; it blocks sodium channels and causes breathing difficulties, numbness and paralysis. There is no antivenom and without immediate medical intervention, the risk of death is high. Thanks to this project, we’ll better understand one of our most notorious marine creatures and have more information to assist with treating blue-ringed octopus bites.

webJKF_2005_06896.jpg Southern Blue-ringed Octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) photographed in Port Phillip Bay at night.
Image: Julian Finn
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links:

Australian Venom Research Unit: blue-ringed octopus

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