This Giant Octopus Has Been Hiding in Plain Sight

Fagjun | Published 2018-01-03 02:01

A giant Pacific octopus species has been swimming around right under our noses all this time, and scientists have only just identified it.


A newly-discovered octopus species that researchers have encountered before. [Photo by David Scheel]

A newly-discovered octopus species that researchers have encountered before. [Photo by David Scheel]

 

Octopuses are quite the proficient tricksters. They’ve been spotted playing pranks on their prey, and have even made daring escapes from their enclosures. This newly-discovered octopus species, meanwhile, must be particularly good at camouflaging itself, showing us that these undersea animals have more tricks up their sleeves—er, tentacles.

 

The frilled giant Pacific octopus has been mistaken for the giant Pacific octopus, also called Enteroctopus dofleini. There hasn’t been evidence that indicates the existence of a whole other octopus species; however, there is now.

 

Scientists now have both visual and genetic confirmation that the frilled giant Pacific octopus is indeed a separate species. Interestingly, however, there have been hints of the frilled giant Pacific octopus’s existence for a few years. Scientists have only recently managed to finally confirm what they’ve been suspecting for some time now.



An Octopus With All the Frills


A member of Enteroctopus dofleini [Photo via Shutterstock]

A member of Enteroctopus dofleini [Photo via Shutterstock]

 

Researchers had already found DNA evidence of a genetically distinct giant Pacific octopus way back in 2012. The problem, however, was that the researchers released the two octopuses they took samples from without taking photographs as well. Visual evidence was needed in order to corroborate the genetic evidence.

 

So what’s a researcher to do? Look for the missing visual evidence, of course. Nate Hollenbeck and David Scheel, researchers at Alaska Pacific University, set out to do just that. According to their new study, they decided to look in shrimp traps, which have been found to be very attractive to several octopus species. The researchers were able to retrieve a total of 21 octopuses, seven of which were found to be morphologically distinct from the giant Pacific octopus.

 

It's important to be able to visually identify the frilled giant Pacific octopus. [Photo by David Scheel]

It's important to be able to visually identify the frilled giant Pacific octopus. [Photo by David Scheel]

 

These distinct octopuses, as their name suggests, have a frill of raised bumps on their skin, called merged papillae. Some have three smaller papillae under the octopuses’ eyes, which look like eyelashes, while others have major papillae or antler-like papillae over their eyes. They also have two white spots on their heads, unlike the giant Pacific octopus, which has only one. Apparently, members of the new species have at least one of these physical characteristics, none of which can be found in giant Pacific octopuses.



Distinct Features


There's still a lot to discover about the frilled giant Pacific octopus [Photo by Nate Hollenbeck and David Scheel/BioOne]

There's still a lot to discover about the frilled giant Pacific octopus [Photo by Nate Hollenbeck and David Scheel/BioOne]

 

DNA tests also proved that the seven octopuses were genetically distinct from the giant Pacific octopus. Interestingly, the researchers were able to take samples by testing a new, less invasive technique that won’t hurt the octopuses, proving that the technique can be successful.

 

Because there’s now visual evidence of the new species, identifying them in the wild is now possible. Researchers will be able to figure out how many there are, as well as where they can be found. The identification of the distinct physical features can also lead researchers to discover habits and behaviors that may have given rise to these features.

 

As of now, the name “frilled giant Pacific octopus” is temporary. It’s not yet the official name, and the species also doesn’t have its Latin name yet. There’s still more work to be done before these names will be established.

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