New Grapevine aquarium exhibit is armed and mysterious

GRAPEVINE -- Caroline Watson walked from tank to tank photographing cephalopods.

"I didn't know how shy they would be," said the 10-year-old Grapevine resident. "Not Eleanor, though. She's not shy at all."

Eleanor is the grande dame of Octopus Garden, the traveling attraction that debuted Wednesday at Sea Life Grapevine Aquarium. Predictably, about five versions of The Beatles Octopus's Garden played on a loop in the room devoted to the exhibit at the 45,000-square-foot entertainment and education destination in Grapevine Mills mall.

Here for a year, Octopus Garden includes five saltwater habitats that, in addition to Eleanor, hold a handful of chambered nautiluses, a zebra octopus so tiny it could fit in a tablespoon, a pair of pharaoh cuttlefish capable of turning virtually any color and the Caribbean reef octopus that hid from Caroline's camera.

"They're very shy and good at hiding," said Oscar Miranda, the aquarium's education coordinator.

Fortunately, the cuttlefish, nautiluses and zebra octopus weren't so shy.

The beautiful curled shells of the nautiluses fascinated guests as the animals hovered almost motionlessly.

The zebra octopus moved slowly across the front of its tank, stretching its arms so far that the minuscule creature resembled a 12-inch-wide starfish.

"They're known to mimic other animals," Miranda said.

Satisfied with just sitting on sand and coral, the cuttlefish at least showed their ability to change color. One was the color of sand; the other, coral.

But Eleanor, the 30-pound giant Pacific octopus, showed that she's the star of the show.

Only a year old and almost fully grown, she clung to the acrylic wall of her habitat with all eight of her 5-foot-long arms and most of the 200 suction cups on each of them, displaying a body that stopped everyone in their tracks.

Jack Miller, 3, urged his mom, Lisa, to ask Miranda how Eleanor eats.

"Her mouth is in the center of all those arms," Miranda said.

Cephalopods are the most intelligent of the more than 5,000 creatures at Sea Life, Miranda added, and the aquarium works to stimulate that intelligence. It's part of the philosophy of United Kingdom-based parent company Merlin Entertainments Group.

"Sometimes we give her food in a peanut butter jar," he said. "She unscrews the lid to get to the food."

Octopi are partial to crabs, Miranda said. When guests are fortunate enough to catch the 1 p.m. feeding show featuring Eleanor, they're likely to see her perform the "octopus parachute jump" onto her prey.

When it's the cuttlefishes' turn to perform for supper, Miranda said, they sometimes pulsate with brilliant colors to confuse or even hypnotize prey before the pair of tentacles above their arms shoot out to grab it.

Caroline said she's fascinated by the aquarium, which is why she was there Wednesday with her mom, Kimberly, and sister, Lauren.

Lauren Watson, 20, said she appreciates how the aquarium's designers created habitats specifically for each group of animals and "make it fun to learn about them."

The aquarium includes a 160,000-gallon tank with an acrylic tunnel that puts guests in the midst of sharks, rays and dozens of other species. On the second floor, guests are dared to walk across several transparent floor panels directly over those prowling sharks.

Kids come face-to-face with about five species of rays in one huge tank, and get to touch hermit crabs, snails, urchins and starfish in tide pools.

Miranda said he and his crew often play with Eleanor, but unfortunately she isn't among the animals guests get to touch.

Terry Evans, 817-390-7620

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