Hi friends!

We wanted to share this episode from the fabulous new podcast: Terrestrials. If you like it, you’re in luck, because there are five more episodes waiting for your hungry ears.


Radiolab for Kids Presents: TerrestrialsTerrestrials is a show for people of all ages that explores the strangeness that exists right here on Earth. 


In this episode, Sy Montgomery, an author and naturalist, shares the story of a color-changing creature many people assumed to be brainless who outsmarts his human captors. If you want a SPOILER of what the creature is, read on: It’s an octopus. We hear the story of one particularly devious octopus who lost a limb, was captured by humans, and then managed to make an escape from its aquarium tank—back into the ocean! The tale of “Inky” the octopus calls into question who we think of as intelligent (and kissable) in the animal kingdom.


Learn about the storytellers, listen to music, and dig deeper into the stories you hear on Terrestrials with activities you can do at home or in the classroom on our website, Terrestrialspodcast.org


Find MORE original Terrestrials fun on Youtube.


Badger us on Social Media: @radiolab and #TerrestrialsPodcast 




Terrestrials is a production of WNYC Studios, created by Lulu Miller. This episode is produced by Ana González, Alan Goffinski and Lulu Miller. Original Music by Alan Goffinski. Help from Suzie Lechtenberg, Sarah Sandbach, Natalia Ramirez, and Sarita Bhatt. Fact-check by Diane Kelley. Sound design by Mira Burt-Wintonick with additional engineering by Joe Plourde. Our storyteller this week is Sy Montgomery. Transcription by Caleb Codding.


Our advisors are Theanne Griffith, Aliyah Elijah, Dominique Shabazz, John Green, Liza Steinberg-Demby, Tara Welty, and Alice Wong.


Terrestrials is supported in part by Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation.

Audio Transcript

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INTERVIEWER: Hi, friends. So if you're like me, you might like to daydream about having supernatural powers that defy the laws of nature. Well, it turns out that those kinds of dreams are actually reality for some creatures right here on Earth. Terrestrials, a new podcast for kids from Radiolab, explores the strangeness on our planet through true stories of real living things.

Today, we are excited to share with you an episode from Terrestrials, called The Mastermind, a dramatic tale of how a special octopus named Inky escapes an aquarium and makes us question who we consider intelligent and kissable in the animal kingdom. It's pretty great, and we think you're going to like it a lot. To listen to more Terrestrials, find Radiolab for Kids wherever you get your podcasts. Now, on with the show.

LULU MILLER: Three, two, one.

SY MONTGOMERY: Imagine you are a liquid creature.


No bones, and you are so pliable that you can literally pour your body through a tiny opening.

LULU MILLER: You can change colors.

SY MONTGOMERY: Blue, and green, and red, and yellow, and even metallic.

LULU MILLER: You can taste with your skin.

SY MONTGOMERY: And you have blue blood, and you have three hearts.


And if you're threatened, if you feel scared, you can shoot ink--

LULU MILLER: Into a silhouette in the shape of you.

SY MONTGOMERY: So the predator is fooled into believing you're still there.

LULU MILLER: Now, look down at your arms, and watch them slowly sprouting into eight.

SY MONTGOMERY: You are an octopus now.


OK, now is where I make you sing the theme song with me.


ALAN AND LULU: (SINGING) Terrestrials, terrestrials, we are not the worst. We are the bestrial, bestrial.

LULU MILLER: You got it.

- [LAUGHING] I don't know.

LULU MILLER: Terrestrials is a show where we uncover the strangeness waiting right here on Earth, and sometimes break out into song.

ALAN AND LULU: (SINGING) There's so much to discover when you dive down deep, terrestrials, terrestrials. So to come on in plunging to the sea, terrestrials, terrestrials.

LULU MILLER: Good voice is not required. I am your host, Lulu Miller, joined as always by my song bud, Alan.

ALAN GOFFINSKI: (SINGING) Hello, everybody.

LULU MILLER: Today, we are joined by special guest, Sy Montgomery, who is going to tell us a story about a devious little octopus who outsmarted his human captors. Hi, Sy.


LULU MILLER: What do you do for a living? What is your job?

SY MONTGOMERY: I'm an author, and I write about animals.

LULU MILLER: And what are some of the animals you've written about?



Gorillas, tarantulas, garter snakes, wildebeest, pink dolphins in the Amazon, hyenas, orangutans, man-eating tigers. Of course, I'm a woman, so I knew I was safe, but--




LULU MILLER: All right, so let's head out on this octopus journey. Where does it all start?

SY MONTGOMERY: It was likely in 2014 deep in the ocean off the coast of New Zealand.

LULU MILLER: The little baby octopus is born.

SY MONTGOMERY: The size of a grain of rice.

LULU MILLER: In a stretch of ocean called Hawkes Bay.

SY MONTGOMERY: He hatched out with hundreds of other octopuses.

LULU MILLER: And then he began floating away, a little grain of rice with eight little arms, not so great at swimming, very low chance of surviving, only able to eat whatever little scraps of tiny crustaceans and shrimp happened to come his way.

SY MONTGOMERY: The octopus actually grows faster than almost any other animal. They can double their size in a matter of days.

LULU MILLER: So this little guy kept getting bigger, and longer, and heavier. And as he did, he started being able to eat--

SY MONTGOMERY: Bigger things, like crabs and fish.

LULU MILLER: How does it catch-- how does an octopus catch a crab? There's something so confusing about something so soft being able to catch something so sharp. I always think the crab would win.

SY MONTGOMERY: Of course, you think that.


LULU MILLER: Sy explained that like thousands of people who came before me, I was assuming that because an octopus was a kind of creature called a mollusk, basically, a lumpy bug in the same family as slugs and clams, it just couldn't be all that brainy.

SY MONTGOMERY: We don't think of clams as very brainy, because they don't have any.


LULU MILLER: But all along, under their slimy skin, unnoticed by humans, octopuses have had huge brains, brains so big they spill down into each of their arms and allow them to catch all kinds of things.

SY MONTGOMERY: Oh, they'll eat fish. They've been known to even eat sharks.




SY MONTGOMERY: They will eat birds.


ALAN AND LULU: (SINGING) Let's take a break do you consider that an octopus can eat a bird. Let's take a break to consider that an octopus can eat a bird.

LULU MILLER: Tweet-tweet, splash, burp. How does an octopus catch a bird?

SY MONTGOMERY: Well, you've got certain birds that float on the ocean. And when they're doing that, their little feet are below the water.


SY MONTGOMERY: And that would be an opportunity for an octopus to reach up and grab them.

LULU MILLER: And then what, can you just take me over home plate there? So they grab them and pull them--

SY MONTGOMERY: They grab them and they wrap them in their arms.

LULU MILLER: And hug them till they--


LULU MILLER: All right. Moving on, so our little octopus is now a few weeks old, and he's getting better and better at hunting, but he also has to quickly master how to hide from the things that want to eat him, things like sharks, and whales, and humans, and other octopuses.

SY MONTGOMERY: They will eat each other.

LULU MILLER: So they're cannibals. They'll eat each other?



SY MONTGOMERY: The most dangerous predator to an octopus is a moray eel, big, long, green fish. They have two rows of teeth, another row in their throat.

LULU MILLER: Ugh. So to hide in that giant clear ocean, our little red octopus can turn a deep purple, or white, or yellow so that it looks like--

SY MONTGOMERY: A piece of coral, or a bunch of algae, or a rock, or the seafloor.

LULU MILLER: And it can also--

SY MONTGOMERY: Turn into spots all of a sudden, or stripes, or they can stripe just one part of their body. Some octopuses even make themselves look like poisonous sea snakes, or poisonous flounders.

LULU MILLER: They can grow horns.

SY MONTGOMERY: Which sometimes can be two inches tall. They can even do a display called passing cloud, which how when a cloud passes over something, it looks like a darkness sweeping across the land? They can make a darkness sweep across their bodies, and this confuses fish into believing a bigger fish is--

LULU MILLER: Is above them.


LULU MILLER: That is so clever.

SY MONTGOMERY: It's really great.

LULU MILLER: So our little octopus, his days are busy as he's practicing throwing punches with his arms, changing colors, and flexing each of his hundreds of suckers which have grown so strong they can crack open clam shells, snap. And every now and then, he conks out to take a nap.

SY MONTGOMERY: They also appear to dream, because when they're sleeping, sometimes they change color, the same way a puppy or kitten might run in its sleep, or bark, or meow in its sleep.


LULU MILLER: And then one day as he's moving through the world transforming into eels, and clouds, and sand, something attacks him. It snaps off one of his arms. And though he fights back with all seven of the other ones, whatever predator it is manages to knaw pieces out of a bunch of the others.

SY MONTGOMERY: So this octopus was pretty beat up.

LULU MILLER: But eventually, he is able to wriggle away, and finds a spot to lay down and rest inside a mysterious metal box. The owner of that box will appear after this short break.


We're back.

LOBSTERMAN: (SINGING) Yo-ho-ho, yo-ho-ho.

LULU MILLER: Picture a lobsterman in his boat bobbing along on the water. One morning, he is pulling up his lobster traps, and what does he find inside, but our little octopus? And while he could have sold him for like 30 bucks to a fish market, someone who wanted to eat him, instead, he thought he'd bring the octopus to the aquarium, the National Aquarium of New Zealand. They gladly take him in, plunk him in a tank. They give him the name Inky, because like ink, Inky. And by all accounts, he was a huge hit.

SY MONTGOMERY: He was a total sweetie. He was a super friendly octopus. Everybody knew him. He delighted everybody.

ALAN GOFFINSKI: (SINGING) Well, step right up and see our seven arms squirmy little. Dance the seven-legged can-can, and a can, can, can, can, can. An amazing little creature, yes. A marvel in our midst. Watch him dance his little hearts out with a kick, kick, kick kick, kick, kick, kick. Hoo-ah.

SY MONTGOMERY: So they had him in a tank, and there was plenty for him to do. He had toys to play with.

LULU MILLER: He was given a Mr. Potato Head doll. And he would rearrange the eyes and ears. They gave him puzzles and locks to unlock. And you were saying an octopus can even take thread and tie a knot?

SY MONTGOMERY: It can also do what's harder, and that is untie a knot.


SY MONTGOMERY: Even though they don't have hands and they don't have fingers.

LULU MILLER: But perhaps the most amazing feat for this seven-armed octopus, or septipus was that eventually, he was able to--

SY MONTGOMERY: Grow a new one.

ALAN GOFFINSKI: (SINGING) Watch him play, and watch him swim, and regenerate a missing limb. Come one and all, young and old, it's quite a sight to behold.

LULU MILLER: Month after month, Inky lived out his life inside that tank, changing colors, and charming the aquarium keepers by playing with their toys, slowly growing healthier, those suckers regenerating, and growing stronger and stronger until about two years into his captivity--

SY MONTGOMERY: One morning, the keepers came in, and Inky wasn't there. And they saw a slime track going from his tank eight feet across the floor, which led to a drainpipe. And this drainpipe was 164 feet long. And it dropped directly into Hawkes Bay, which is where he came from.


So it looks like Inky went home.



And no human has ever seen him again.


REPORTER: It is time now for The Mix, this octopus, Inky, actually made a break for it.

LULU MILLER: The world freaked out when they heard about Inky's story.

REPORTER: Inky the octopus making a break for it, slipping out of a New Zealand aquarium.

REPORTER: So a shore tank redemption.

REPORTER: Inky is having a party right now.


LULU MILLER: But Sy says the most incredible thing about Inky's escape is that it's not incredible.

SY MONTGOMERY: There are many, many instances of octopuses that have gotten out of their tanks.

LULU MILLER: The more that Sy researched octopuses, the more she came across tales of amazing escapes. There was the octopus that escaped out of a cigar box that was nailed shut, the octopus that leapt out of an ice tray at a fish market and crawled back into the ocean. And in aquariums--

SY MONTGOMERY: There are so many accounts of octopuses that get out of their tank at night, eat the fish in the neighboring tank, and then return to their own tank.

LULU MILLER: So they're really like-- this Inky is not fluky. Like, octopuses are sort of known for being escape artists when forced into captivity. Is that like--

SY MONTGOMERY: Yes. And octopuses will climb out of the ocean.

LULU MILLER: Really, and do what?

SY MONTGOMERY: Oh, they just kind of walk around on the land for a little while, and then they go back in.

LULU MILLER: Are you serious?

SY MONTGOMERY: They're looking for food. And there's tons of videos of this. You should see it.

LULU MILLER: And they just they walk on their legs? Like, do they walk on all eight, or--

SY MONTGOMERY: Well, they kind of slime around. I mean, it's not particularly easy. And they don't go far, but they will spend time out of the water looking for new things to eat or escaping predators.

LULU MILLER: Or as was recently observed, grabbing halves of a coconut and bringing them together to hide inside as a kind of coconut fort.


KID: Dad.


LULU MILLER: And as more and more videos of behavior like this have been captured around the world.

MAN: That's a pretty sized octopus, isn't it?

LULU MILLER: Octopuses is making tools, or unlocking locks, or catching eagles.

MAN: That's nature at it's best.

LULU MILLER: Videos sometimes filmed by kids just looking out at the water. Scientists have come together and scratched their fancy scientist chins, and largely agreed that they can't deny it anymore. Octopuses are--

SY MONTGOMERY: Intelligent. It turns out that their intelligence is quite like ours in a way that their bodies are not. And that is surprising and delightful that somebody who looks so unlike you, and has senses so unlike yours--

LULU MILLER: Can solve such similar problems.

SY MONTGOMERY: That is mind blowing.


LULU MILLER: And while some people certainly noticed how amazing the octopus was long ago--

SY MONTGOMERY: People in Moorea, which is part of Polynesia, were so impressed with octopuses that they built a church with eight sides just to remind them of how special octopuses were.

LULU MILLER: Sy thinks that scientists largely missed their intelligence because of their intelligence. Octopuses were always darting out of our eyesight, flashing into whatever color hid them from us, and escaping our tanks when we were able to catch them, which made it hard to ever fully see them.


LULU MILLER: Oh, and one other reason--

SY MONTGOMERY: I think that most people who are looking for intelligence like ours was looking for it in animals that were more like us, so we didn't look in the right place.


LULU MILLER: Before Sy could move on to her next animal, her next book, she knew she had to do one last thing. She wanted to touch an octopus. She had read an account by a famous scientist that described the feel of the octopus slimy arms as one of the grossest things on Earth, like plunging your hand into a pit of snakes. Ugh. But she wanted to find out for herself. So one morning, she showed up to the New England Aquarium and was led to the tank which housed a giant Pacific octopus.

SY MONTGOMERY: She was bright red.

LULU MILLER: Five-feet long.

SY MONTGOMERY: And she was hiding in her lair.

LULU MILLER: An aquarium worker named Scott popped the lid.

SY MONTGOMERY: I saw her eyes swivel in its socket and lock onto mine. And then she came jetting out of there.

LULU MILLER: And she reached a few of her arms up over the edge of the tank.

SY MONTGOMERY: And I asked Scott, can I touch her? And he said, sure. And so I plunged my hands and arms into the freezing cold water to meet the octopus. And instantly, my flesh was covered with dozens of these suckers.


SY MONTGOMERY: And then I began to stroke her head. And I noticed that she was beginning to turn white beneath my touch right where my fingers were. And I later learned that that's the color of a relaxed octopus, and that she was enjoying that.


LULU MILLER: And as you were stroking her, and she was turning white, what were her arms like? I'm picturing them just like coiled around your wrists. And was it disgusting? I mean, were they slithering and wrestling all around?

SY MONTGOMERY: Well, they were all wrestling around, but it was like thousands of-- not thousands-- I guess under 2,000, but 1,800 little kisses.

ALAN GOFFINSKI: (SINGING) 1,800 little kisses. 1,800 octopus kisses. 1,800 octopus sucker kisses. I'm thinking about all the octopus kissing we've been missing. 1,800 little smooches. 1,800 octopus hugs and smooches.

LULU MILLER: Sing it, Alan.

ALAN GOFFINSKI: 1,800 itty bitty octopus sucker smooches. Why did it take so long to learn about this cuteness? This friendly little octopus is smarter than we thought. And now, we know to pucker up when they kiss us with their suction cups. It's hard to understand a thing if we don't give it a chance. If we didn't search, we'd never learn about this funny mollusk romance.

ALAN AND LULU: 1,800 little kisses.

LULU MILLER: Everybody.

GROUP: 1,800 octopus kisses 1,800 octopus sucker kisses. I'll be thinking about all the octopus kissing we've been missing.

LULU MILLER: [DRUMMING SOUND] Alan Goffinski, everybody.


Terrestrials was created by me, Lulu Miller, with WNYC Studios. It is produced by The Inc, credible, inincredible Ana Gonzalez and Alan Goffinski, with-- you know me. With help from Suzie Lechtenberg, Sarah Sandbach, Natalia Ramirez, Diane Kelley, Joe Plourde, and Sarita Bhatt. Sound design and additional editorial guidance by Mira Birt-Wintonick. [IMITATING GUITAR] Our advisors are Theanne Griffith, Aliyah Elijah, Dominique Shabazz, John Green, Liza Steinberg-Demby, Tara Welty, and Alice Wong.

Terrestrials is supported in part by Science Sandbox, an initiative of the Simons Foundation. Biggest thanks to Sy Montgomery. In addition to all her adulty books, she has a beautiful picture book about Inky's amazing escape, called Inky's Amazing Escape. And that'll do it for the credits, because who keeps listening past the credits? There's never going to be anything. What's that?

THE BADGERS: Excuse me. I have a question.


THE BADGERS: Me three.


LULU MILLER: The badgers. Listeners with badgering questions for the expert. Are you ready?


RUBY: Hi, my name is Ruby. And my question is, how many species of octopus are there?


EVANGELINE: Hello, my name is Evangeline, and I was wondering what is the biggest octopus ever found on Earth?

SY MONTGOMERY: 600 pounds.


NELL: Lulu, my name is Nell. [SPEAKING FRENCH]


WOMAN: Can you say does--

NELL: Does--

WOMAN: Does an octopus eat eggs?

NELL: Does an octopus eat eggs?

SY MONTGOMERY: I think it would.

CLARA: My name is Clara. What is one of the biggest mistakes you have ever made?

SY MONTGOMERY: Well, just last week I was working at the Turtle Rescue League, and I was moving an old turtle. I lifted her up. My finger was too close to her mouth, and she bit me.


ELLIOT: Hi, my name is Elliot. Why do you octopus squirt their ink? Is it smelly? And can you write with it?

SY MONTGOMERY: You can write with it, actually. I bet it is smelly to the predators that it bothers. It is chemically very complex. And some people even think that the ink actually drugs the predator into believing that they've already had enough to eat.


BILL: Hi, my name is Bill. Do their arms move in unison, or can they move independently?

SY MONTGOMERY: Yes, they can move independently of each other. And in fact, if a predator bites off one of your arms for a while that arm can still go off and do stuff.


SY MONTGOMERY: It's almost as if the animal has nine brains. And sometimes, it appears that the octopus has some shy arms and some bold arms.

LULU MILLER: It's like, got different personalities.

SY MONTGOMERY: Yeah, imagine that. What's that like? What is the self like if you have nine brains?

LULU MILLER: Fabulous questions, badgers. Thank you. I'm going to leave it there to let you ponder that little mind bender. I'm definitely not going to tell you about the claims that octopuses when eaten alive, have been said to crawl out of the throats of the whales, dolphins, and occasionally, humans-- [GAG SOUND]-- that tried to consume them. I'm not going to tell you that, because I'm nice.

If you would like to badger our next expert, or suggest a topic for the show, visit our website at terrestrialspodcast.org. There are also all kinds of other goodies there, like drawing prompts, and fun activities to engage more deeply with these stories. Thank you for listening. Catch you in a couple of spins on this lumpy old planet of ours. [VOCALIZING PLANET SPINNING] Bye.


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