Octopuses, 296 Million Years ago! Those whip-smart but bizarre cephalopods, seem to embody everything creepy and mysterious about the sea–the thought of their soft squishy bodies lurking in the oceans’ dark reaches has inspired monsters ranging from the Kraken to the Caribbean Lusca. Their otherworldly forms, heightened by unfurling arms, find their way into more modern monsters and villains too–think Disney’s sea witch Ursula or Spider-Man’s Doc Oc. And don’t forget the octopus-themed horror movies!
1) Octopuses are waaay old. The oldest known octopus fossil belongs to an animal that lived some 296 million years ago, during the Carboniferous period. That specimen belongs to a species named Pohlsepia and is on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. Harmon Courage describes it as a “flattened cow patty” or a “globular splat,” but a close examination reveals the tell-tale eight arms and two eyes. Researchers aren’t sure, but possibly there’s an ink sack there, too. In other words, long before life on land had progressed beyond puny pre-dinosaur reptiles, octopuses had already established their shape for the millions of years to come.
2) Octopuses have three hearts. Two of the hearts work exclusively to move blood beyond the animal’s gills, while the third keeps circulation flowing for the organs. The organ heart actually stops beating when the octopus swims, explaining the species’ penchant for crawling rather than swimming, which exhausts them.
3) The plural of octopus is octopuses. The world “octopus” comes from the Greek, októpus, meaning “eight foot.” The word’s Greek roots means it’s pluralized as a Greek word, too, which depends on both a noun’s gender and the last letter it ends with. In this case, an -es is simply tacked on. So no octopi, octopodes or octopussies, Harmon Courage points out.
4) Aristotle thought octopuses were dumb. In his History of Animals, written in 350 BC, the Greek philosopher wrote that ”The octopus is a stupid creature, for it will approach a man’s hand if it be lowered in the water; but it is neat and thrifty in its habits: that is, it lays up stores in its nest, and, after eating up all that is eatable, it ejects the shells and sheaths of crabs and shell-fish, and the skeletons of little fishes.” After describing a few more quirks of octopus life history–it ejects ink for self-defense, it’s slimy, it can crawl on land–he flippantly signs off, “So much for the mollusca.” However, the big-brained cephalopod can navigate through mazes, solve problems and remember solutions, and take things apart for fun–they even have distinct personalities.
Octopuses, an inspiration for monsters throughout history, get a fresh look through a new book that dives deep into the creatures’ mysterious lives
By Rachel Nuwer
A new book, Octopus! The Most Mysterious Creature in the Sea, by Katherine Harmon Courage, comes out today. Harmon Courage takes a deep dive into all things octopus, ranging from their culinary use in dishes around the world to their tragic sex lives. Here, we highlight a few of the fascinating points covered in the book. Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-curious-facts-about-octopuses-7625828/#O3qP0bQgOf4QJ3Mr.99