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The Amazing OctopusThe-Amazing-Octopus

  • Subject:
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  • Grade(s): 6-8
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  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will understand the following:
1. Some animals, including the octopus and other cephalopods , have the ability to change their body color to blend in with their environments.
2. This ability, known as camouflage , protects them from predators by making them practically invisible.


A computer with Internet access will provide students with the opportunity for further research on camouflage and cephalopods. Before beginning the activity, prepare several imaginary "background environments" by cutting and gluing patterns onto large sheets of construction paper (48" ? 56" recommended). For example, one background might have one-inch-diameter black circles on a white background; another might have brown stripes on a blue background. In addition, provide the following materials for each group:
Construction paper in a variety of colors, including those used in the "background environments"


1. To begin the activity, ask your students whether they know of any animals that blend in with their environment. Students might mention animals such as the tiger, praying mantis, and polar bear. At this point, introduce the term camouflage .
2. Continue the discussion by asking students if they know of any animals that can change color to blend in with their environments. Students might mention the chameleon. Let them know that the octopus and other cephalopods also have that ability.
3. Conclude the introductory discussion by asking students how the ability to blend in with the environment benefits an animal. Students should understand that camouflage, which helps an animal to hide from predators, is a means of defense and survival.
4. Divide the class into groups, giving each group one of the "background environments" you have prepared.
5. Challenge groups to use the materials provided to create imaginary animals that will blend in with their environment and place them in their "environments."
6. Have each group choose "predators" to try to find the animals hiding in the other groups' "environments."
7. Each predator, in turn, can stand on a steady chair, looking down at the "environment," trying to spot as many "animals" as possible in five seconds.
8. After the activity, hold a discussion about what made the camouflaged "animals" difficult to spot. Was it their shape, patterns, colors, or a combination of all three?

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Adaptations for Older Students:
Have students do research to find scientific explanations for how cephalopods change color.

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Discussion Questions

1. Throughout human history, sailors have told stories about ships and crewmen being attacked by giant octopuses. Do you think these stories are realistic? Based on what you know of octopuses' temperament and behavior, should people be afraid of them? Explain your thinking.
2. Scientists often distinguish between intelligent animal behaviors (which involve reason and problem solving) and complex animal behaviors (which are based on instinct, no matter how intelligent they might seem). Discuss whether the behaviors of octopuses—camouflage, ink squirting, and hiding in small crevasses, among others—are intelligent or complex. What evidence do you have for your opinion?
3. As humans, we have designed our tools to work well with our limbs and hands. Scissors, for instance, fit nicely into a human hand; we can use them because our thumbs and forefingers are perfectly suited for the task. Imagine you're an octopus, and you'd like to have tools to use in your everyday life. What kinds of tools might you like to have? How would you design them to work well with your complex body? What factors would you have to take into consideration?
4. Octopuses are very good at finding their way back to their dens, no matter how far away they have wandered. Develop a hypothesis that explains how octopuses are able to find their way home.
5. Every year, millions of public and private dollars are spent to study animals like the octopus. This research sometimes results in a great understanding of animal behavior and biology, but little financial return. With that in mind, should we continue to spend money on animal research? Should we spend more money? Defend your answer.
6. Explain how human society might be different if people were able to change their color and skin texture as quickly and effectively as cuttlefish. What effects would this have on clothing and makeup? On technology? On racism?

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You can evaluate your students on their contributions to the discussion using the following three-point rubric:
  • Three points: sound reasoning; demonstration of excellent speaking skills

  • Two points: adequate reasoning; fair speaking skills

  • One point: adequate reasoning; poor speaking skills

    You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining criteria for excellent speaking skills.

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Colorful Cuttlefish Communication
Cuttlefish are thought to communicate by changing the colors of their skin. Divide your students into groups, and give each group a set of three different-colored cards. Ask each group to develop a system of communication using only the colored cards—a system that will allow one group leader to guide other group members around the room. Once they have developed their systems, choose one group to go first. While only the group leader remains in the room, hide one "prey animal" and several "predator animals" throughout the room. Then ask the group members to troll through the room, guided by the leader, searching for the hidden prey animal. Their goal is to find it without accidentally stumbling upon one of the predators. If anyone gets "killed" by a predator, that person has to stop hunting. As soon as someone finds the prey animal, the hunt is over. Repeat the process with each group, timing students to see which group can find the prey animal in the least time with the fewest losses. When the activity is complete, lead a discussion about the various color languages that the students developed. Which were most efficient? How could they have been more effective? What innovative strategies did they use?

Monsters of the Deep
Giant octopuses and squid have figured as villains in many stories about the sea. Perhaps the most famous example is the giant squid that attacks a ship in Jules Verne's novel Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea . Read the students an excerpt from that exciting story; then ask them to choose their own marine invertebrate and write a short story based on that animal. Encourage students to use the library, the Internet, and any available science texts to find interesting and important facts about their animal's physical characteristics and behavior to include in the story. Their goal should be to make the story as realistic as possible. 

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Suggested Readings

The Octopus: Phantom of the Sea
Mary M. Cerullo. Cobblehill Books, 1997.
Monkeys aren't the only ones who see and do. Learning by watching is considered an advanced form of intelligence, and this ability has earned the octopus the distinction of "primate of the sea." Surprised? Read and find out more about this elusive creature.

Beneath Blue Waters: Meetings with Remarkable Deep-Sea Creatures
Deborah Kovacs and Kate Madin. Viking, 1996.
Join the crew of a research submersible to explore the depths of the sea. Meet the creatures that call the ocean home and learn about the adaptive strategies that allow them to survive.

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About Octopi (Mote Marine Laboratory)
This site includes information, pictures, and web links.

The Cephalopod Page
The site contains information and color photos of octopuses, squids, cuttlefish, and nautilus. Web links and "The Cephalopod Page FAQ" answer additional questions.

Students, K-12, can access a range of information. Features include: Aqua Facts (octopuses and squids); Ask a Marine Scientist; Ocean News. Sponsored through a partnership between Canadian marine science organizations.

SchoolNet Ocean Site
Links to marine life/oceanography lesson plans, teacher resources, and thematic units.

SeaWorld Animal Information Database
Web site provides information about sea animals and educational resources.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    camouflage
Definition: Concealment by means of disguise; behavior or artifice designed to deceive or hide.
Context: The octopus was camouflaged so well among the rocks that I almost stepped on it.

speaker    cephalopod
Definition: Any of a class of marine mollusks that move by expelling water from a tubular siphon under the head and that have a group of muscular, sucker-bearing arms around the front of the head, highly developed eyes, and a sac containing ink that is ejected for defense or concealment.
Context: The octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish belong to a group of animals called cephalopods.

speaker    chromatophore
Definition: A pigment-bearing cell; one of the cells of an animal capable of causing color changes by expanding or contracting.
Context: When the squid climbed on the dark-colored rock, chromatophores in its skin turned the animal jet-black.

speaker    tentacle
Definition: Any of various elongate, flexible processes borne by animals and especially invertebrates.
Context: The octopus tucks its eight long tentacles behind it as it swims.

speaker    variegated
Definition: Diversified in external appearance, especially with different colors.
Context: The plant's leaves were variegated, with spots of white on a green background.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: life science
Knows the general structure and function of cells in organisms.
Knows that multicellular organisms have a variety of specialized cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems that perform specialized functions (e.g., digestion, respiration, reproduction, circulation, excretion, movement, control and coordination, protection from disease).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Understands how species depend on one another and on the environment for survival.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows ways in which species interact and depend on one another in an ecosystem (e.g., producer/consumer, predator/prey, parasite/host, relationships that are mutually beneficial or competitive).

Benchmark 6-8:
Knows that organisms can react to internal and environmental stimuli through behavioral response (e.g., plants have tissues and organs that react to light, water, and other stimuli; animals have nervous systems that process and store information from the environment), which may be determined by heredity or from past experience.

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows how the interrelationships and interdependencies among organisms generate stable ecosystems that fluctuate around a state of rough equilibrium for hundreds or thousands of years (e.g., growth of a population is held in check by environmental factors such as depletion of food or nesting sites, increased loss due to larger numbers of predators or parasites).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: life science
Knows about the diversity and unity that characterize life.
Benchmark 6-8:
Knows evidence that supports the idea that there is unity among organisms despite the fact that some species look very different (e.g., similarity of internal structures in different organisms, similarity of chemical processes in different organisms, evidence of common ancestry).

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows how organisms are classified into a hierarchy of groups and subgroups based on similarities that reflect evolutionary relationships (e.g., shared derived characteristics inherited from a common ancestor; degree of kinship estimated from the similarity of DNA sequences).

Grade level: 6-8, 9-12
Subject area: science
Understands the nature of scientific inquiry.
Benchmark 6-8:
Understands the nature of scientific explanations (e.g., emphasis on evidence; use of logically consistent arguments; use of scientific principles, models, and theories; acceptance or displacement based on new scientific evidence).

Benchmark 9-12:
Understands the use of hypotheses in science (e.g., selecting and narrowing the focus of data; determining additional data to be gathered; guiding the interpretation of data).

Benchmark 9-12:
Knows that scientists conduct investigations for a variety of reasons (e.g., to discover new aspects of the natural world, to explain recently observed phenomena, to test conclusions of prior investigations, to test the predictions of current theories).

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Don DeMember, science resource teacher, Kingsview Middle School, Germantown, Maryland.

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