Hippocampi - The Etymology of Seahorses You Never Wanted to Know, and Some Other Random Facts

Did you know that the male seahorse is the member of the couple that gives birth? They’re quite unique that way in the animal kingdom. I meant to have some fun facts like that ready to go for you, but instead ended up geeking out on words, so bear with me here for a second. Or skip down to the numbered list below if you don’t share my enthusiasm for completely random (and probably useless) linguistics trivia.

Seahorses, funny looking things that they are, belong to the genus Hippocampus. This word originally comes from the Greek hippos, or “horse,” and kampos, or “sea monster.” Or perhaps it comes from the related word kampe, for “caterpillar.” Sea monsters and caterpillars are easy things to confuse. I could see how this could get mixed up.

In Greek mythology, the Hippokampos is a sea monster, with the upper body of a horse and the lower body of a fish (or perhaps a sea monster or perhaps a caterpillar). So you can see how the tiny, adorable seahorse, which resembled this fearsome carriage-drawing, aquatic creature of the gods, came to be called by a Latin derivation of the same name. So now that the Greek word has been stolen by Latin, it becomes correct to pluralize hippocampus into hippocampi. (Otherwise, Greek-derived words such as “octopus” never get pluralized to “octopi.” That’s a Latin thing.)

Fletch checking out a seahorse in Lembeh, Indonesia. 

There’s another puzzle piece here that you’re probably trying to work out in your head. Isn’t the hippocampus a part of the brain? It is! And it was discovered by Julius Caesar Aranzi in 1587 who said it resembled, you guessed it, a seahorse. So there you have it, all the useless etymology behind seahorses that you never wanted to know. Have I bored you to tears yet? Fine, then we’ll talk about dudes laying eggs.

1. The dudes don’t actually lay the eggs.

Females produce the eggs and then deposit anywhere between 50-1500 of them (depending on the species) into the male’s pouch (called a ‘brood pouch’) for fertilization, via a special tube called an ‘ovipositor.’ The male then carries and cares for the eggs, allowing the female to produce more eggs right away in order to speed up the reproduction process. The male carries the eggs anywhere from ten days to six weeks (depending on the species), and then gives live birth to dozens or even hundreds of baby seahorses, called ‘fry.’ These fry are completely independent and go off on their merry way into the blue.

2. Seahorses are fond of dancing.

When a seahorse lady finds a potential partner, she greets him daily. This greeting consists of changing colors, swimming with the seahorse version of holding hands, which is linking tails, and swimming in circles around each other. These greetings can last for hours, every day. When they feel good and bonded and are ready to make little fry, the daily greetings become a courtship dance that lasts anywhere from hours to even days.

Seahorses, of which there are 40-55 species depending on whom you ask, are difficult to determine the species due to their ability to change colors. 

3. …And are terrible swimmers.

While seahorses may be expert dancers, they are arguably the worst-swimming fish in the ocean. They are fish, due to the fact that they have gills and fins, but those fins are about as useful as Nemo’s right fin. Seahorses propel themselves via a small fin on their back that is capable of fluttering up to 35 times per second. They steer with the even smaller pectoral fins behind their gills where a person’s ears would be. Does this sound exhausting? Because it is, and seahorses can easily die of fatigue. (I guess we saved that seahorse’s life that was tumbling down the sandy slope in Manado!)

Here is a closeup of a pretty seahorse face and you can still barely make out the little fin behind her gills.

4. Seahorses have very few natural predators, but spend lots of time themselves eating.

Crabs enjoy a tasty seahorse every now and again, but for the most part, they are too bony and indigestible for most marine animals to eat. You may be wondering now what seahorses eat, and that is a great question, because they have very interesting eating habits. Seahorses suck up foods such as plankton and teeny tiny fish through their nose straws from as far away as 3 cm (which is quite a ways when you're the size of a seahorse). Due to the facts that they have no teeth and no stomach, and food passes through their digestive systems fairly quickly, seahorses must eat almost constantly to stay alive.

5. But that doesn’t mean that they live without threat.

Crabs eating seahorses are just part of the circle of life. The main threat to their existence comes from a certain land-dwelling monster.

An estimated 150 million seahorses are plucked out of the ocean every year for use in traditional Chinese medicine. They are believed to help with everything from impotence, to wheezing, nocturnal enuresis, pain, and labor induction. Now granted they are named after mythical beasts, and so those who hopefully believe in the fantasies of magical cures might be inclined to think that eating a seahorse would have mystical healing properties. Let me tell you a little secret though. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Leave the poor seahorses alone.

An estimated one million seahorses are boiled out in the sun to die and become souvenirs every year in the curio trade. Unless you are the kind of creep who has a secret collection of dead animals in the closet, don’t buy these souvenirs and contribute to the demand for them.

Another estimated million seahorses are fished out of the ocean every year for the aquarium trade. While they are extremely cute and adorable, and resemble tiny versions of ancient Greek mythical monsters, it is estimated that less than 1000 survive more than six weeks in captivity. So unless your aquarium keeping skills are at a master, black-belt level, don’t experiment with endangered critters. Stick to the goldfish.

If I hide my tail in the sand, maybe no one will take me. 

6. Seahorses have unique features.

I’d hate to leave you on a depressing note, and so enjoy this last little tidbit. Seahorses have unique markings. The crown, called a ‘coral net,’ is different on each seahorse. That’s right, just like your favorite Disney princesses, seahorses each have a unique little crown that they wear. Except they wear theirs permanently. I’m suddenly wishing I had the artistic skills to draw all the Disney princesses as seahorses. Why not? They’ve been artistically reimagined in every other form it seems. If you have some mad artistic skills, send me your best seahorse drawing!

Yes, I have shown this same seahorse from Lembeh three times. She was very photogenic.

Meet the Mighty Mantis Shrimp - The Death Rainbow of the Ocean

One of the most remarkable creatures beneath the surface of the ocean is the mantis shrimp, which isn't actually a mantis or a shrimp. (It belongs to an order called stomatopoda). This incredible crustacean has what is thought to be the most complex set of eyes in the animal kingdom, can punch with the same velocity as a .22 caliber rifle, and is being studied to create stronger and lighter armor for military use. If those facts don't distract you from the cat video on your Facebook feed, then read no further, I've got nothing for you.

The beautiful, infamous, Peacock Mantis (Odontodactylus scyllarus)

If you've decided to stick around, then enjoy these fun facts about nature's own kaleidoscope demon. Or maybe it's a superhero. I'll let you decide.

1. Eyes That Can See Things We Can't Even Comprehend. 

Mantis shrimps have the most complex visual system ever discovered. Let's start with their color photoreceptors. Humans have three sets of color receptive cones, that allow us to see the colors red, green and blue. Birds, reptiles, and many fish have a fourth that detects ultraviolet light. Mantis shrimp have 12-16!

The eyes of a Tiger Mantis (Lysiosquilla maculata), peeping up from his burrow in the sand. Don't those eyes just look as though they can see everything in the universe? 

2. And Yet They're Not as Adept at Differentiating Between Colors.

These 16 photoreceptors have led many to believe that mantis shrimp can see an infinitely greater number of colors than the ones found in even your most elaborate paint deck, but researchers have discovered that you and I are still better at differentiating between subtle hues. Check out this article by National Geographic for an example of the colors we can differentiate between vs. the ones a mantis shrimp can. (Although I'm embarrassed to admit the blue hues looked the same to me).

3. They Have Trinocular Vision.

That means that each eye can individually gauge depth and distance on its own, by focusing on objects with three separate regions.

Another example of Tiger Mantis eyes periscoping up out of the sand. These guys can grow to be 16 inches!

4. So What Do Those Eyes Do? 

The short answer is, despite all the information out there, we still don't know the full potential of a mantis shrimp's optic abilities. It is believed that they absorb visual information into their brains all at once without processing it, allowing for quicker reaction times. They are also the first animal to be discovered that exhibits a visual system that can see a special spiraling type of light called circularly polarized light. This is now getting a bit more scientific than I had intended, but if that floats your boat, you can read more about it here. 

5. Mantis Shrimps Can See Cancer Cells.

One benefit to being able to detect polarized light is that mantis shrimps can detect cancer, even before symptoms appear. This is because polarized light reflects differently between cancerous cells and healthy tissue. This superhero-like ability is helping scientists to develop cameras to detect cancer. 

Keel Tail Mantis (Odontodactylus cultrifer). This guy just looks like a mystical, Eastern healer, capable of curing cancer via reiki and singing Kumbaya. 

6. They Can Communicate in Secret Codes. 

The ability to see polarized light has another advantage: communication. Mantis shrimps can not only see polarized light, but can manipulate it as well. It turns out that they bounce polarized light off of their feeing appendages, called maxillipeds, in order to communicate with each other in secret light codes. Read more on the science behind that here. 

7. Smashers Vs. Spearers.

There are hundreds of different species of mantis shrimps (the number is somewhere between 350 and 500 depending on which source you refer to). These are usually clumped into two different varieties. Smashers have blunt raptorial appendages, also called dactyl clubs, used for bludgeoning their prey to bits. This makes eating crabs, lobsters, and other shellfish, a much easier task than it is for you and me. Spearers have long raptorial appendages with barbed tips for stabbing their prey.

8. That Gunshot Statistic You Probably Read Somewhere Before. 

Smashers, namely the infamous peacock mantis shrimp, can accelerate their dactyl clubs with the same velocity as a gunshot from a twenty-two caliber rifle. They can strike prey with 1500 Newtons of force in less than three-thousandths of a second. If human beings could accelerate our arms at 1/10th of that speed, we'd be able to throw a baseball into orbit (according to The Oatmeal). If we could punch with that much force relative to our own weight, we'd be able to punch through steel (according to Fact Animal).

A keel tail mantis harassing Fletch's harassment stick. You can actually hear the impact! Scroll to the bottom to see the video.

9. Supercavitation and Sonoluminescence.

The incredible speed of a smasher's movement actually causes the water around them to boil. Actually, boil is an understatement; the temperature is nearly as hot as the sun. The collapse of these bubbles causes a shockwave that can kill prey even if the mantis misses his shot, a phenomenon known as supercavitation. All of this produces sparks of light, called sonoluminescence.

10. A Subject of Military Research. 

Mantis shrimps can deliver 1000 punches between molts. How do they deliver such deadly blows, and so repeatedly, without injuring themselves? This question is helping researchers to develop new composite materials to create better body armors, car frames, and aircraft panels.

11. Romantic Tendencies Despite the Violent Abilities. 

Despite their murderous tendencies, mantis shrimps can actually be quite the romantics. Some species are known to engage in the rare practice of social monogamy. They will choose one partner with whom to share food, shelter, and raise offspring over the course of a lifetime. This allows them to live a relatively sedentary lifestyle, away from predators, because deep down, they're really just beautiful little homebodies.

12. If You Like WebComics... 

...then you simply must check out these hilarious and completely factual illustrations by The Oatmeal (the creator of Exploding Kittens). One day I'll get around to having a poster framed for the wall. It's that great. (Or maybe I'm just that much of a nerd).

13. If You Like Comedy Skits and Nature Documentaries

...then this is the video for you. 

Finally, I'll leave you with my own video of a keel tail mantis shrimp (the same one from the photo above) attacking Fletch's pointy metal stick. If you turn the volume up, you can actually hear the impact. After failing to crack open the metal stick, he turned around and started going after Tanja's camera lens. Quite understandably, she backed away to protect her lens. The other noises you hear are Fletch laughing, and the zoom function on my camera. (I never claimed to be an expert videographer).

So what do you think? Colorful assassin or aquatic superhero? Drop a comment!

The Curious Life of a Sex-Changing Ribbon Eel

I wrote a dozen different (failed) attempts at a (not-so) humorous intro, tying this little fellow in with a current topic of debate, but they all made me cringe, and so I'll just cut straight to the chase here.  It just so happens that there are many cases of changing sex amongst marine organisms. One of these examples is found in the beautiful and elegant ribbon eel, so named because when free-swimming, it looks like the rippling ribbon of a rhythmic gymnast.

As hypnotizing as they are, it is incredibly rare to see ribbon eels free-swimming. They are usually burrowed down in the sand or rubble, with only their heads protruding, not much larger than a jumbo straw. They become very attached to their hidey-holes, and have been known to stay put for months or even years. Disrupt one though, and it will quickly search out a new abode.

We used to have a juvenile ribbon eel that lived in the rubble of the site of our famous shark dive back in Fiji. It was a terrible place for him to live, because divers from all shops would come and sit on the rubble to watch the sharks. It was the only time we condoned sitting on the bottom. Mr. Ribbons would inevitably find a nice little hole in the rubble to settle into, until enough people found his spot, causing him to move somewhere new. It became a game to find the little black ribbon eel. He never moved very far.

Ribbon eels are unique in that they not only change sex as they mature, but color as well. All of them are born male, and as juvenile males, they are pitch back. As they begin to mature, they develop a yellow dorsal fin.

A juvenile ribbon eel begins his life completely black.
(Rhinomuraena quaesita)

Then, as they grow into adulthood, they become vibrant blue with the same yellow dorsal fin. Scientists used to think that the different colors were different species of ribbon eel, and have only recently discovered that ribbon eels are in fact sequential protandrous hermaphrodites (sequential hermaphrodites = organisms that switch from one sex to another; protandrous = first male then female). All blue ribbon eels are adult males.

The blue ribbon eels are adult males. (Rhinomuraena quaesita)

Towards the end of their 20-year lifespan, ribbon eels undergo their final transformation and turn from male to female, and from blue to yellow. The female will then lay her eggs and die within a month. Because of this, it is very rare to see one in yellow form, and we were incredibly lucky to find all three stages of life when diving in Lembeh.

Finally, ribbon eels become yellow females for their last month(s) of life.
(Rhinomuraena quaesita)

As curious and hypnotizing as these critters may be, I must ask you to please not attempt to raise one in an aquarium. A quick Google search shows that you can buy one online for $100. In captivity, they usually stop eating and die within a month though. If you really think they are that cool, let them live out their natural 20 years in the wild.

The Mysterious Curlycue Octopus, and All the Other Cephalopods We Met Along the Way

The number one thing I really wanted to see in Lembeh, Indonesia was a mimic octopus. Normally I don't dive with expectations, I just enjoy whatever show Mother Nature feels like putting on that day. As dive guides, Fletch and I have really grown to loath the question, 'What are we going to see today?' It's a silly question. You can never guarantee anything but water. And the list of things you might see could fill up the pages of a bible. We were told that the way to dive Lembeh though was to give our dive guides a wish list of things we wanted to see, and so the search for a mimic octopus began.

Mimics, as their names suggest, can imitate as many as fifteen different critters in the ocean. In order not to get eaten, they pretend to look like lionfish, flounders, sea snakes, you name it. They're pretty spectacular.

When you find something cool like a mimic, you have to be able to relate that to your buddies. Not all dive signals are universal; some of the marine life signals tend to vary from place to place, from diver to diver. As long as you are getting the point across though, that's all that really matters. Fletch likes to use the one-handed method of bringing all of your fingertips together, then curling them in towards the palm of your hand repeatedly. He does this for all cephalopods. So as you can imagine, each time he signaled to me that he had found what might have been an octopus, a cuttlefish, or a squid, my heart raced and I rushed over hoping to see my mimic. There really should have been a specific sign for mimic so as not to get my dreams up and dashed so many times.

The first time this happened I rushed over to find a little guy perfectly blended in with the sand, speckled in differing shades of volcanic black and all. As he made his way across the sandy bottom, he intermittently swapped between a flat, oblong shape, which I'm guessing was supposed to make him look like a flounder, and all eights spread out in every direction, which I assume was his attempt at looking as intimidating as possible, a herculean task for his small size (about the size of my hand).

White-V octopus mimicking a flounder.

An actual flounder, for reference. 

There is relatively little written about the white-v octopus. I was hoping to do a little research and wow you with my impressive knowledge of this fellow who I never even knew existed, but it seems as though the rest of the internet doesn't know he exists either, aside from a few stock photos. (By the way, these are not the stock photos, but my own.)

White-V octopus eyeing us suspiciously before he disappears into the sand.

White-V octopus simultaneously being intimidating and camouflaged. 

The next cephalopod we found was one that Tanja and Stephan had never seen before. Fletch and I were staring mesmerized at a tiger mantis shrimp when Stefan came over, eyes wide with delight, and started tugging Fletch away like a kid trying to drag his parents towards the rides at the amusement park. There in the sand was a vibrant purple cuttlefish, aptly named the flamboyant cuttlefish, and no bigger than the first two joints on my index finger. Despite wanting to squee with delight and stare like a moth at a flame, I tried to let Tanja and Stefan get first dibs with the camera. Luckily there was a second little boop not even ten feet away.

Look! A Cuttlefish!

The flamboyant cuttlefish looks like the pet every kid would want in place of a pony if we lived in some alien universe. They flash the most dazzling display of purples and yellows with little white clouds drifting past, as if their entire body was just one misshapen plasma display screen with a face full of tentacles. Normally they camouflage to blend in with the sand. This I have never seen, because as soon as they feel threatened, they try to startle their predators with the hypnotizing color works. And I guarantee when you are the size of a fingertip, a group of divers kicking up all the sand you're crawling around on is plenty threatening. (We weren't actually kicking up the sand, but you see what I'm getting at here.)

Flamboyant Cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi). Now imagine all of those colors in motion. 

To watch a flamboyant cuttlefish crawl around in the sand is like watching a tiny little purple rhinoceros move about. They crawl around on two arms in the front, and a portion of their mantle which protrudes to look like legs in the back. Apparently their cuttlebone to size ratio doesn't support much buoyancy, and so it is thought that they prefer to scuttle about on the bottom. Only a few species of cuttlefish have developed this trick.

The next time Fletch made the octopus sign (or possibly a squid, or possibly a cuttlefish), it was to point out another cuttlefish even smaller than the flamboyant, and much less colorful. I am going to take a guess that this was a crinoid cuttlefish due to its size and pointy skin flaps. These little guys grow to be all of 4 cm.

Crinoid Cuttlefish (Sepia sp.2)

We watched in awe for a while as the little guy hovered, seemingly motionless, hunting his next meal. He would stretch out his tongue tentacles, slowly and cautiously, then zap them back in to feed himself faster than the blink of an eye.

We also found a more common, broadclub cuttlefish, which grows to be a whopping 20 inches. This one was maybe half that size, and quite friendly and interactive. I followed him around for a while, and he never seemed to mind. He didn't speed up to jet away anyway, but rather just sort of meandered about like a bumblebee.

Broadclub Cuttlefish (Sepia latimanus), about 10 inches. 

By the final time Fletch made the ambiguous cephalopod sign, I had mostly given up on spotting a mimic, and was almost surprised to see any octopus at all. The little octopus we saw only gave us a brief show as she dashed from her sandy hiding place to a nook in a rock. That brief show was both baffling and mysterious. The little octopus had all of her tentacles curled and displayed in every direction like a Balinese dancer. She looked more like an intricate, delicate glass sculpture than a living, breathing thing, capable of forming herself into almost any shape.

A beautifully intricate display by an unknown octopus. (Abdopus sp.)

I've spent hours pouring over the internet but cannot figure out what species she is, or why she turns all of her arms into curly fries when encountered. All I can find is that she belongs to the genus Abdopus. I would love to know more though. If you have any intel, drop a comment or send me a message.

Bundled up into a ball, yet each individual arm is still wound into a neat spiral. 

Here she makes two of her arms look like the horns of a screw horn goat (yes, that's a thing).

What are you and what games are you trying to play, little octopus? 

Unfortunately we never did get to see the mimic octopus. In its place, I was introduced to some pretty awesome cephalopods I never knew existed though. The search will just have to continue. One day I will see a mimic!

An Octopus, a Ghost, and a Muffin

Sounds like the start of a joke doesn’t it? An octopus, a ghost, and a muffin walk into a bar… I wish I knew the punch line, but sadly I’m a rubbish joke-teller. If you have any ideas, drop a comment.

I wish this story were as funny as a joke but it’s actually kind of sad. I wrote down these three individual stories at the end of our day in Lembeh, thinking they were all unrelated, only to realize that they were in fact completely related. You may find them sad. You may find it creepy that the same story happened three times in one day. So without any further ado…

The Coconut Octopus

I was having the time of my life in the muck, searching for critters so bizarre that even J. K. Rowling couldn’t dream them up. There was one dive though that was particularly mucky. Tanja and Stefan did not like the site at all. Granted, it was pure sandy bottom, and we didn’t find much, but the two things we did find were amongst the more memorable.

Fletch found what looked like a little arena; a pit in the sand, the size of a beach ball, made up of sponges. Inside this sponge arena were dozens of lionfish and boxing shrimp, including the blue variety. It looked like an underwater colosseum. Normally we don’t carry harassment sticks with us. We don’t like harassing anything. The sticks I am talking about are long metal rods used to point stuff out, and more often than not, to harass the critters. But in Lembeh, carrying them seemed to be the norm. The guides used them to comb through corals to look for anything that moved. They all carried extras, and so we asked if we might borrow one each. When in Rome… and whatnot.

Blue Boxer Shrimp (Stenopus tenuirostris)

I said that we don’t like harassing anything. I lied. We don’t like harassing anything except lionfish. I know that’s terrible, but Fletch and I have both spent way too much time in the Caribbean where they are invasive and completely decimating the reef. In the Caribbean, we were trained to spear every lionfish we came into contact with. And yet, having every diver out spearing every lionfish, still hasn’t been enough to slow them down from breeding like rabbits and eating 90% of the juvenile fish species that are supposed to be there. That’s the Caribbean though. In the Pacific Ocean, they are indigenous. In the Pacific, we aren't supposed to care about them.

Rare, yellow variation of the Shortfin Lionfish (Dendrochirus brachypterus

Fletch didn’t do anything to hurt the lionfish. "Harass" is a bit strong of a word. But he did entertain us both for several minutes by using his harassment stick to corral them all back into the sponge arena as they tried to leave. Like slaves trying to escape the fighting pits. Sorry, I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones lately.

We moved on and I noticed that the sand was littered with numerous coconut shells, and so I started using my harassment stick to gingerly lift them up and take a peek underneath. I was hoping to find a species of octopus that carries around coconut shells as a makeshift home and shield. Sort of like a hermit crab with its shell. Check it out. I didn’t even know if this kind of octopus lived here though, and so after numerous empty coconuts, eventually lost interest in the search.

Towards the end of the dive, I looked up from whatever little critter I was zoned in on, to see the entire rest of the group all hovering around a single thing. That never happened. Usually we were all scattered about, each in our own little world. I finned over to see what the excitement was.

I approached and saw the dive guide tinkering with a glass bottle. It was missing its bottom. He was pushing an octopus out through the missing bottom with his harassment stick. By the time I arrived, he had set the bottle down and the octopus was retreating back inside, bringing a shell along with it to use as a little makeshift door. Its use of the shell as a tool gave it away as a coconut octopus, and I settled in excitedly to observe.

Coconut Octopus peeking out of her bottle. See the shell she uses as a door?  (Amphioctopus marginatus)

I took some photos. The little gal was peeping her eyes out of the crack between the shell and the bottle curiously. I love octopuses, and will sit there and watch them all day if given the chance. When Stefan and I were still watching her five minutes later, the guide took this as a cue to give us a better photo op and started trying to push the octopus out again with his harassment stick. (Do you see now why I call them harassment sticks?) He finally succeeded and the poor little octopus tumbled out, along with all of her eggs which she was desperately clinging to under her skirt. Hundreds of thousands of little white sacks were all bundled together under her skirt. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. The guide shouldn’t be harassing her just for the sake of a photo. Wildlife should never be harassed. But a mother protecting her offspring is a whole different level of taboo.

Coconut Octopus desperately trying to cling to all of her eggs. 

An octopus only lays all of her eggs once at the end of her lifetime. She spends her last few months of life dutifully taking care of them, tending to them constantly, protecting them from predators, and wafting fresh, oxygenated water over them. She does this whether they have been fertilized or not. When they finally hatch, she can leave this world in peace, starved and exhausted.

Coconut Octopus trying to get back into her bottle. 

The guide stood her bottle up so that the open bottom was now down in the sand, leaving her defenseless. Luckily, octopuses are smarter than that, and as soon as he had backed away, she had the bottle knocked over and was back inside with her eggs and her shell-door in no time at all. I got some lovely photos, but they came with a guilty conscious.

First you have to knock it over...

Then you have to squeeze back inside with all 100,000 eggs. 

I hope the little coconut octopus has better luck hiding her eggs from the next group of harassment sticks.

The Ghost

Later in the afternoon, I went up to the room to change into dry clothes. When I went back down to the poolside area, it was to overhear Kees telling a ghost story to the other three. I’m petrified of ghost stories, the ones people believe are real, and so walked around to the far side of the pool as slowly as I could to return the towels, hoping to miss the story. Unfortunately the area was too small to get out of earshot, and so I heard the whole thing.

The resort was built on a hillside in a little lagoon, not even two years ago. One of the older employees had lived in the neighboring village his whole life, and so knew everything about the area.

According to him, back in the day, there was a woman who was with child, but because of her husband’s religious beliefs, he didn’t want the child, and so he killed her. She was buried on the hillside where the resort is now. When the builders were excavating for the resort, they accidentally dug up her grave. The Indonesian people, being very superstitions, knew that they had done a terrible thing, and so trying to fix the situation, dug up all of her remains, and gave her a second, proper burial, over to the side of where the first bungalow is now.

Well, apparently her spirit hasn’t found her second grave yet, and so late at night she still wanders along the hillside and through the resort, searching for her grave. The Indonesians are terrified of her. They won’t go into that bungalow if they can help it. Oftentimes the late night kitchen staff will run away scared. When the dive staff from Manado come to visit, they refuse to sleep in that area.

Fletch, being from New Orleans, and well versed in voodoo-type beliefs, suggested burning sage over her grave to help her find it. Whether that helps or not, is yet to be seen, and a story for another day.


The resort was home to two rescue dogs as I mentioned before, and two lovely little cats, Muffin and Lolly. Muffin was a sweetheart, liked to hunt big geckos, and would let us play with her. Sometimes she would even come sleep on our porch, and would always purr oh so loudly. She used the pool as her own personal watering hole, sometimes carefully propping herself over the edge, sometimes sitting in the trench to one side like she was seated at the bar.

We looked out the window to spy Muffin napping under our deck chair. 

Bartender! A saucer of milk please! 

A few days previously she had been asleep under the table in the dining room, and had just suddenly woken up and started meowing frantically in her raspy, smoker’s-voice meow. Never had I seen a cat awake like that and start crying, as if waking from a bad dream. Fletch went over to her and held her until she stopped meowing and fell asleep again in his lap. Then we heard her sad story.

The Dutch manager couple had taken her to the vet to try to get her fixed. We’ve often done the same in under-developed countries. Cats and dogs run around feral, and no one ever spays or neuters them, and so their numbers just multiply. It’s a kind thing to take an animal in to fix it here and there, and then return it to where you found it.

The vet informed them that they fixed animals via injection now (which we had never heard of and neither had they). Well the injection didn’t work, because Muffin still got pregnant after the fact. The couple took her back to the vet who gave her another injection. This one caused her to produce a litter of stillborn kittens, and so for that she was a very sad cat despite her sweetness. That was probably the bad dream she had been having before. Poor Muffin.

So there you have it, the octopus, the ghost, and the Muffin. I wrote down all three stories thinking I was just keeping notes for the day; thinking they had nothing to do with each other. I felt uneasy writing down the ghost story, wondering if doing so would provoke her. Then as I laid awake that night, I realized that all three stories followed the same, sad tale, about mothers either losing their young, or being lost in the process of caring for their young. I don't think the ghost was upset about having her story written down. Nothing out of the ordinary happened that night, aside from restlessness and bad dreams.