It seems hard to believe, but octopuses really DO have beaks! But wait, it gets even cooler than that. Behind that beak are even more strange secrets that help octopuses survive! Strap on your scuba tank, because we’ll be taking a deep dive into some octopus facts that are downright un-beak-lievable!
Every octopus has a hooked, parrot-like beak hidden away in its underside, in the middle of its arms. It can be hard to spot because it’s also retractable, which means when an octopus isn’t using it, it can pull it into its body – kind of like a cat’s claws!
Octopuses are carnivorous, meaning they only eat other sea creatures. And their beak has been designed over millions of years of evolution to help them get the most out of their meaty meals!
Behind the beak
Most of the time, an octopus’ favorite prey are things like crabs and clams, which have some kind of hard outer shell or exoskeleton to protect themselves from predators. But octopuses have developed a clever way to get around, or rather, through these defenses.
Octopuses use their radula and salivary papillae to drill into or crack open these hard shells(more on that later). Then, they use their beak, like you might use a pair of scissors, cutting apart softer food like fish into bite-sized chunks!
You can’t go wrong with your meal if you are also armed with a venomous weapon – the cephalotoxin! Octopuses secrete and inject this toxin into their prey, causing them to be paralyzed. This makes it easier to handle their food while protecting themselves from the painful claws of a crab.
Do Octopus Use Their Beaks To Chew?
Octopuses use their jaws for cutting meat, but they don’t use them to chew. They do something MUCH cooler!
To get through the armor of its prey, an octopus will use a special tongue called a radula to drill a hole into the hard shells and access their flesh. It’s also like a cheese grater that is covered in lots of little, rough barbs which scrape down big chunks of meat into smaller bits that are easier for them to swallow!
🐙 Octopus Fun Fact
This is important as the small esophagus is nested in the middle of the brain, so food pieces can’t be too large.
Imagine having to eat a steak armed with nothing but a cheese grater, and you’ve got the right idea!
Which just leaves us with the question: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a crab?
a.Schematic drawing of a sagittal section through the buccal mass of an octopus to show the position of the upper and lower beak and other structures used for feeding.
b-c. Upper and lower beaks of two Antarctic octopuses: bAdelieledone polymorphac. Pareledone turqueti.
What octopus beaks can teach us
Scientists can learn a lot about how an animal evolved by studying an animal’s remains. Usually, this means studying hard tissue that’s left behind, like shells or bones.
But how do they learn about our boneless buddy, the octopus? The answer is simple: look for the beaks!
Octopus beaks are made from a hard substance called chitin, which is the same stuff lobster and crab shells are made of! And these beaks are TOUGH.
So tough, in fact, that scientists learned about the octopus’ natural predators by finding undigested beaks in the stomachs of sharks and whales!
Beaks can even become fossils and teach us about the ancestors of today’s cephalopods. Recently, paleontologists discovered the fossilized beak of a squid called Haboroteuthis poseidon which, based on the amazingly large size of the beak, was probably as huge as the giant squid! Twice the size of the modern colossal squid.
Just the beak-inning!
The cool thing about octopuses is that there’s always something new to learn! Check out our Octopedia (link) to learn more!
If you want to educate yourself some more about all sorts of different cephalopods, take a look at our encyclopedia. Or, what we call it, our Octopedia!
Connect with other octopus lovers via the OctoNation Facebook group, OctopusFanClub.com! Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram to keep up to date with the conservation, education, and ongoing research of cephalopods.
More FAQs to check out!
- Do Octopuses Die After Giving Birth?
- What Are 5 Things An Octopus Eats?
- How Smart Are Octopuses?
- Do Octopus Have Bones?
- Does An Octopus Have Arms Or Tentacles?
- Use of the beaks and radula by Octopus vulgaris in feeding: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1970.tb02167.x
- Does Octopus vulgaris have a second radula? https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1979.tb03370.x