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The Jeweled Octopus, by Lee James Pantas

Painting #11 The Jeweled Octopus

Prints available at artist's website

Fantasy Biology

The Jeweled Octopus, painting by Lee James Pantas

One of the most enigmatic and legendary of the creatures that inhabit Liza's Reef is the Jeweled Octopus (Poulpe Jeweled), long considered by the islanders of VanuaSemia to play an important role in the spiritual ecology of the reef as guardians, or "Keepers of the Reef" (Garde du Recif). Huge by cephalopodian standards, these elegant brown animals are by far the largest octopuses known to man. Some specimens have arm spans of over twenty feet, dwarfing even the North Pacific Giant Octopus, which are known to reach fourteen feet in length. Island legends claim that as long as these creatures live on the reef, it will remain protected  from the myriad of destructive forces that have been unleashed in the oceans by human development and commercial exploitation.  How this happens, if indeed it does, no one really knows, and there is no proof supporting the claim. But the fact remains that Liza's Reef does not at this time in history show any of the signs of degradation and destruction, including coral bleaching, species extermination, and rampant diseases that are so often seen now on other coral reefs throughout the world. These metaphysical powers of  the Jeweled Octopus are  also connected, in island legend, to the incident that occurred on VanuaSemia in 1948, when Liza Reineange  (whom the reef was named after) and her Tahitian friend  Anapa confronted the U.S. government LCP Landing Craft on the reef, and stopped the planned testing of a  prototype atomic bomb. Her actions  not only protected the reef from destruction but also saved the culture of the island. This act of heroism by Reineange was seen to be in harmony with the spirit of the Poulpes Jeweled. A complete account of this event is documented in The Story of Liza's Reef.

A fascinating aspect of the biology of these creatures is the presence of a ring of jewels-like structures surrounding their heads. Both male and females share this extraordinary feature. There are reports of specimens that have been seen without this headdress and evidently it has some significance within the social structure of the creatures themselves, perhaps indicating the most powerful ones. What is known for sure is that the jewels are part of the animals themselves, are biological in nature, and completely vanish when the octopus dies. Dead Jeweled Octopuses have never been found with this exotic ornamentation in place.    

Two of the reef's other huge creatures, the great Starry Eyed Sharks "Requin Observe Etoile", are shown seen in the background. These magnificent creatures also seem have a similar place in the mythology of the reef, as protectors, and are creatures considered to exhibit immense powers. Solitary creatures, it is rare to see a pair together. A number of minor island legends also connect the two species, the Poulpe Jeweled and the Requin Observe Etoile, indicating a level of cooperation in reef guardianship that is rarely seen in wild animals.

Scepter Coral,  from The Jeweled Octopus, Keeper of the Reef, by Lee James PantasThe Jeweled Octopus seem to prefer living near certain corals, especially the tall slender white Starburst Coral (Corail de Starburst). This extremely delicate coral grows only in association with the larger, rounded variety seen shown in the  foreground. Also seen in the painting is the rarest form of coral found on Liza's Reef , the gold and brown Scepter Coral  (Corail de Scepter). Not much is known about this unusually shaped coral, except that it  is most often seen on the parts of the reef where the octopus live. It is known that every ten years it opens, flower-like and  releases thousands of coral larvae, which drift on the currents to other parts of Liza's Reef, and possibly beyond. Supporting this is the fact that a number of specimens of this coral have been found on isolated reefs near the Hawaiian Islands, as well as one reef in the Florida Keys.

Also seen in the painting is a good example of a Ghost Shrimp (Crevette de Fantôme), a species indigenous only to Liza's Reef. These are part of the Octopus' diet, and are common throughout the reef.