Octopuses: "They're aliens alive on our planet and it feels like they have plans.”
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The octopus is already an oddball of the ocean. Now biologists have rediscovered a species of that eight-arm sea creature. This one is even stranger. It shares some of our habits.
With their shifting shapes, mesmerizing eyes and uncanny intelligence, octopuses "are one of the most mysterious and captivating species," said Rich Ross. He is a senior biologist. He works at the California Academy of Sciences. "They are aliens alive on our planet. And it feels like they have plans."
For Ross and colleagues, it got stranger. That is when they got a batch of octopuses from Central America to study. The critters just did not fit the loner profile that scientists had drawn for the rest of the 300 or so octopus species.
Most octopuses live alone. But couples of this species can live together. They can do it when they mate for a few days. They will stay in the same cramped den or shell.
While other females lay one batch of eggs and then die, the female of this species lives longer. It produces eggs constantly. That improves the species' chance of survival, Ross said.
But there is more to the species. These octopuses clean out food waste from their dens. They twirl their arms like an old-timey movie villain with a moustache. And they quickly learn that people mean food. When someone enters the room, they leave their dens. They head to the top of the tank.
"It is the most amazing octopus that I have ever gotten to work with," Ross said.
This octopus is normally a dull chocolate brown. But it suddenly sports stripes and spots when it gets excited or upset. That is according to Roy Caldwell of the University of California, Berkeley. He is the lead author of a paper on the octopus. Ross and others published it in the journal PLOS One.
The species is first being called the Larger Pacific Striped Octopus. It is really not much bigger than a tennis ball. It is just bigger than a similar species.
It was found almost 40 years ago off the coast of Panama. Other scientists would not believe it was a separate species. Or that it showed such unique behavior. So its discoverer, Arcadio Rodaniche, gave up. The species was never formally described or named.
Then in 2011, Caldwell got an email from a high school student about his pet octopus, Charlie. It was the same species discovered in the 1970s. Caldwell traced it to a dealer who sent him two-dozen of the species to study. They came from Panama, Nicaragua and Mexico. The researchers note that this octopus species could act differently in the wild.
They included Rodaniche as a co-author. That was after the retired researcher did not want to let them name the octopus species after him.
In the journal Nature, a different team of scientists published the first map decoding octopus genes. They found the octopus's genetic code is only slightly smaller than humans. But it is twice as big as a bird's genetic instruction guide.
Octopuses are invertebrates. That means they have no backbones. Invertebrates generally have less evolved nervous systems. But not the octopus. They found that it had many of the same genes as other invertebrates. Although they were mixed up as through a blender, said study author Clifton Ragsdale at the University of Chicago.
"There are a lot of weird creatures. And these are the largest of the weird creatures," he said.
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why might this same species act differently in the wild?
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