A mesmerizing new video captures a “once-in-a-lifetime encounter” with a bizarre bright red octopus swimming over the Great Barrier Reef in northeastern Australia.
The encounter, first reported by local Australian news site Bundaberg Now, was a rare encounter with a blanket octopus, so named because of the fleshy blanket-like cape between its arms. Jacinta Shackleton, a marine biologist and reef guide, captured and photographed the octopus while diving off the coast of Lady Elliot Island in Queensland on Jan. 6.
“When I first saw it, I thought it might be a young fish with long fins, but when it got closer, I realized it was a blanket octopus, and I was beyond excited and couldn’t contain my excitement!” Shackleton told Bundaberg Now.
Blanket octopuses are a small group of rarely seen octopuses of the genus Tremoctopus, according to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the legendary reef. Shackleton encountered a young female in shallow water, which is especially rare because these octopuses usually live in the open ocean.
“The colors of her cape were incredible, and it was fascinating to watch her move through the water,” Shackleton wrote on her Instagram account, @jacintashackleton, where she posted video and photos of the encounter.
Only female octopuses have cloaks, which they can remove when necessary to distract or startle predators – just like the magic cloak of Doctor Strange from the Marvel movie.
Females are also much, much larger than males and grow up to 6.6 feet (2 meters) long, while males are less than 1 inch (2.4 centimeters) long, according to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation. This is one of the largest size differences between the sexes of any animal.
In order for males to reproduce with much larger females, they detach their hectocotylus, a modified arm that male octopuses use to deliver sperm, and insert it into the female, Live Science previously reported. Deceptive octopuses are also known for their strange hunting strategy — they rip off the tentacle of a poisonous jellyfish and use it as a weapon to catch their prey.
Shackleton described the experience as a once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
“Many of the pictures were taken by individuals in captivity, so I consider myself very lucky to have seen one during the day, on the reef and in the wild, and I had two cameras with me!” – she told Bundaberg Now.