Bait and switch

To catch an octopus, pretend to be a rat.

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Auckland Museum

In Pacific mythology, the octopus has a mortal enemy: the rat. Once, the octopus helped the rat by giving it a ride on its head to safety. The rat, instead of saying thank-you, defecated on the octopus’s head and ran away.

In order to catch an octopus, then, all you need to do is dangle a rat-sized object off the end of your canoe, and the octopus will attack it, taking its long-awaited revenge.

Octopus lures such as this were created on Niue, Tonga, Samoa and Fiji to resemble rats: fat, round tiger cowrie shells are its body and mottled fur, rope made of coconut-husk fibre is its tail, and some had feet made of pandanus leaves. The lure would be dangled into the water near shallow rocks and moved back and forth. Prising an octopus off a reef might be hard work, but inciting one to wrap its vice-like grip around the shell made catching it considerably easier—gently pull the lure out of the water, and dinner’s on the table.

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