Encounters with octopus

One of Darwin's octopus specimens. Courtesy of the University Museum of Zoology Cambridge.

In his first letter to Henslow, Darwin wrote excitedly: ‘I took several specimens of an Octopus, which possessed a most marvellous power of changing its colours; equalling any chamaelion…this fact appears to be new, as far as I can find out.’ In his reply, Henslow gently disabused his former student of that belief: ‘I myself caught an Octopus at Weymouth this summer & observed the change of color whenever I opened the tin box in which I put it…the fact is not new, but any fresh observations will be highly important.’ Two specimens of octopus in alcohol from St Jago are now on display in the University Museum of Zoology.