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A cautionary tale, in case you’re ever thinking of writing a show about science…

I came up with the title of this song before I did any research.  I didn’t even know if octopuses did have olfactory orifices.  (By the way, ‘olfactory’ means to do with smell, and an ‘orifice’ is a hole, so an ‘olfactory orifice’ is a smell hole, or nostril.)

So I did what all people in the modern age might be expected to do in this situation, I googled “Can an octopus smell?”  And I found several websites, with names like “22 amazing things you never knew about octopuses”, that claimed that octopuses smell out of the suckers on their arms.  The websites would often have phrases like “Can you IMAGINE what it would be LIKE to have 240 noses on EACH ARM?!?!”

Cool, I thought, that’s a great subject for a song, so I wrote a lovely short little ditty about octopuses going around with loads of nostrils all the way down their arms.  But then, luckily, I thought, “Hmm… I’ll just double-check…”

I looked up who was the octopus expert at the Natural History Museum in London (because the Natural History Museum were helping me with some other songs anyway), found out that it was Jon Ablett, and sent him an email saying “Please could you just check my song lyrics for me please?”

And Jo replied to say, “Err, wrooong...”  Those things on the suckers are chemoreceptors, and are for tasting, not smelling.  But the octopus does have two actual olfactory orifices, one below each eye.  And Jon sent me two links: one to a scientific paper that described these orifices in great detail, and one to an article in the Scientific American called “Is Smell The Key To An Octopus’s Heart?”  To be honest, I only skim-read the first (did I mention that I’m not actually a scientist?), but I straight away saw the potential for turning the article into a song.  So that’s what I did.  I sent Jon the new lyrics, and got such a lovely reply that I’ll quote it in full:

Dear John,
Your song is wonderful and you have perfectly summed up the research. No real changes to suggest, the only thing is I believe this is just a theory (with some more evidence since 2015) but that is me being ultra-picky.
Any other questions just let me know.
Best wishes, Jon

(See my discussion under ‘K’ about it being “just a theory”.)

Now read the lyrics.


©2017 John Hinton

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