Once I caught a common octopus in a rockpool. I was amazed when a black shape under a ledge morphed into a mass of tentacles and crawled, very obligingly, into my cheap net. After I’d received accolades from my family for such a remarkable find, I released it and watched it slip silently back underwater.

Three years later, I returned to the same rocky foreshore in Costa Blanca, Spain. I couldn’t believe it when, while swimming in the clear shallows, I saw an octopus resting on the pebbled floor. I jumped out of the sea and blundered over boulders to get closer, expecting it to retreat at my advance.

Yet while I stood barefoot in a few centimetres of water, the octopus did not disappear, but rolled over the rocks right up to me. It extended a tentacle towards my toes, which I quickly retracted. The creature wasn’t fazed by my nervous disposition, but lay in the water directly beneath me, gently pulsing through a range of hues, from granite-grey through to mottled-white, rusty-brown and ruby-red.

Seeing as it didn’t seem to be going anywhere, I figured one of us had to make a move, so I left. Ten minutes later, I wandered back to the same spot and saw the octopus a few metres from the shore. Once more, as I stood right on the edge of the water, the creature approached.

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It rested in the extreme shallows, and this time I stuck one finger into the sea. It quickly sent out a tentacle and we joined appendages. The sensation of sucker on skin is a remarkable thing. I pulled my finger away, dipped it in again, and once more we communed. I was sure not to let it drag my hand towards its body, which I think was its ambition.

Romantic sentiment encourages me to hope it was the same creature that I caught and released, but octopus behavioural expert Dr Stefan Linquist of the University of Guelph, Canada, tells me that’s unlikely, given the average three-year lifespan of the common octopus.

He reckons it may have been a foraging site and the octopus might have been in the habit of checking out novel potential prey items. Though I escaped the tentacles, it’s an experience that will certainly stick with me.

Main image: Common octopus sitting among the rocks. © Dave Musgrove

This Tale From The Bush originally appeared in BBC Wildlife Magazine. Take a look inside the issue and find out how to subscribe.


Dr David MusgroveContent director, HistoryExtra.com

David Musgrove is content director of the HistoryExtra.com website and podcast, plus its sister print magazines BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed. He has a PhD in medieval landscape archaeology and is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society.