Cthulhu Awakens: Scientists Just Discovered a New Breed of Giant Octopus
Last year, scientists discovered about 18,000 new species. Now, that's a lot of animals to catalogue, track, and understand, but you just know most of them are weird, obscure insects that only live in one spot, like a cliff face in Nicaragua. It's fine if we don't spend tens of thousands of dollars figuring out these animals' history and biology—it's fine. What's not fine is the fact that the largest species of octopus is so little understood that scientists only recently ran the numbers on them, only to find that what they've been calling the "Giant Pacific Octopus" is actually two separate species.
Back in 2012, researchers were able to collect samples from Giant Pacific Octopi that proved there was another species floating around, but they didn't know what it looked like. The breakthrough happened when an undergraduate student at Alaska Pacific University, Nathan Hollenbeck, used the novel technique of going out and looking at a bunch of octopi caught by Alaskan fishermen. Turns out he could tell the two species apart just by looking at them with his eyeballs: one species has a "distinctive frill" that runs along its body, along with two white spots on its head and "eyelashes," or ledges of raised skin.
Of course, the new species has been creatively dubbed "the giant frilled octopus." According to David Scheel, Hollenbeck's advisor: "Presumably, people have been catching these octopuses for years and no one ever noticed."
Which brings us to the heart of the matter: how could the greater scientific community not notice a distinct species of giant octopus? Here's a video of a normal Giant Pacific Octopus, for reference:
We want to emphasize that GPOs are not easily overlooked creatures—these suckers are usually around 16 feet long and 110 pounds, but can grow to be 30 feet and 600 pounds. They're not rare, either—all Hollenbeck had to do was look a little more closely at the octopi fishermen were already hauling in, and bam, he's identified a new species. On top of that, Hollenbeck was the first researcher to try using skin swabs as an alternative to cutting of pieces of an octopus' arm to collect DNA samples.
This kind of negligence and complacency is what H.P. Lovecraft was trying to warn us about.
Cover image credit: Laszlo Ilyes/Flickr (CC BY 2.0). Resized.