Oral Octopus

Veined Octopus

Juxtapositions fascinate me. As a former editor I notice the layout of stories on a page knowing that word counts, subject matter, photo sizes, and general interest all play into the placement of material. I recently posted an entry on Sacraments and Sea Cucumbers that had been suggested by such an editorial flourish. Yesterday’s paper wafted another such epiphany.

By now everyone knows that televangelist Oral Roberts died on Tuesday. Although he pioneered much of what is now recognized as televangelism, his true motives were clear when the money began piling up. I’m not the judge of his religious sincerity, but his ministry was a multi-million dollar enterprise, and he even founded a “university” named after himself. Meanwhile, housebound octogenarians on limited incomes gladly sent him their money to continue his good work. There is a very substantial profit to be made in preaching to the choir. All televangelists know that.

Immediately beneath the Oral Roberts story in the New Jersey Star-Ledger was a much more fascinating story about the veined octopus. Biologists have long known that octopi use large shells and other natural detritus for shelter. Octopi had been known to use coconut halves for that purpose as well. What is new in this story is that veined octopi have been observed collecting coconut halves (often discarded by human gatherers), emptying them out, and moving them to a place where two halves can be made into a neat shelter, thereby demonstrating a more advanced brain structure than most televangelists. In short, these invertebrates are utilizing tools. It is only a short step on the way to octopus televangelists, but if they know how to gather their valuables, this development can’t be far behind.