7 Weird and Wonderful Octopuses

iStock/Trueog
iStock/Trueog

There's a lot to admire about octopuses: They can squeeze through holes many times smaller than their body size, change their appearance in milliseconds, and are considered the most intelligent invertebrates on earth. But even within the impressive order octopoda, there are several sub-groups that stand out. Whether they're cute or terrifying, these octopuses are definitely all noteworthy.

1. BLANKET OCTOPUS

Blanket octopuses are the fashion queens of the undersea world. Females sport transparent webs connecting some of their arms, and when they swim the flesh flows like a gauzy gown beneath them. The "blanket" comes in handy when scaring off predators; to make themselves appear bigger, the octopuses will spread their arms and the webbing along with it, kind of like Dracula opening his cape. Their dramatic look isn't the only thing that makes blanket octopuses notable. They can detach their arms in desperate situations, and on the offensive side, they can break the stinging tentacles off Portuguese Man O' Wars and use them as weapons. The males of the species aren't quite as impressive: At less than an inch long, they weigh 10,000 to 40,000 times less than the 6-foot-long female.

2. GHOST OCTOPUS

The so-called "ghost octopus" is the most recently discovered species on this list. Known for its pale, translucent skin, it was first identified by NOAA researchers near Hawaii in 2016 and is so new to science it doesn't have an official name yet. We do know that the cephalopod likes to hang out deep beneath the sea surface and that it makes some extreme parenting choices. After attaching its egg clutch to a dead sponge and wrapping its body around it, the creature stays that way for several years without feeding, ultimately sacrificing itself to safely bring its young into the world.

3. MIMIC OCTOPUS

Several octopus species are masters of disguise, but none can top the mimic octopus in terms of shape-shifting prowess. Along with changing the texture of its skin, it can contort its body to resemble a specific marine creature. To copy a sea snake, it hides six of its arms and stretches the remaining two out; when acting like a lionfish, it arranges its arms to look like long spines. It can also mimic the banded sole, and possibly anemones and jellyfish. Every animal the mimic octopus models itself after has something in common—they're toxic, and by convincing predators that it's the real thing, the octopus avoids becoming dinner.

4. STAR-SUCKER PYGMY OCTOPUS

Octopus wolfi in coral.
iStock/AndamanSE

The star-sucker pygmy octopus, or Octopus wolfi, is as cute as its name suggests. It lives in shallow waters in the Pacific ocean, but it's still easy to miss. It's the smallest of all the known octopus species, measuring just under an inch long and weighing less than a gram.

5. DUMBO OCTOPUS

Dumbo octopuses make up their own adorable genus: Grimpoteuthis. Instead of long, separate arms, their appendages are connected by an umbrella-like web, and they use two ear-like fins on either side of their heads to flap through the water—hence the nickname. They're typically found in deep ocean waters, which makes them difficult to study. Only recently did scientists learn that Dumbo octopuses are equipped with two flappable "wings" as soon as they hatch from their eggs.

6. COCONUT OCTOPUS

The coconut octopus uses a primitive method to hide in plain sight. After getting its suckers on coconut halves (or shells, as you can see in the video above), it will carry them around and close the makeshift shelter around its malleable body whenever it feels threatened. The tool has proven so valuable to the animal's survival that coconut octopuses will awkwardly walk across the seafloor in order to haul around husks that are bigger than their bodies, even though swimming would allow them to get around much faster.

7. BLUE-RINGED OCTOPUS

Octopus floating in the ocean.
iStock/Subaqueosshutterbug

Like many things in nature, the blue-ringed octopus is as striking as it is dangerous. The electric-blue rings that mark its body are a warning of its venomous bite, and while all octopuses are toxic, the blue-ring octopus is the only one that's deadly to humans. Just one nip from its beak can trigger potentially fatal paralysis; there's enough tertodotoxin in its body to suffocate 10 men. Scientists believe that the toxins aren't actually produced by the octopus itself, but rather come from microbes taking up residence in its salivary glands.

Pet Obesity is Causing Big Health Problems, According to a New Report

iStock/dennisvdw
iStock/dennisvdw

If you’ve recently picked up your cat and felt your back give out, your furry friend may be among the 60 percent of the feline population that’s overweight. Dogs are also getting chubbier: about 56 percent of pet pooches are obese.

According to Banfield Pet Hospital, America's largest general veterinary practice with more than 1000 hospitals nationwide, those fat cats and chunky puppies are at risk for chronic health issues. In a new report, the hospital finds that osteoarthritis (OA) in pets is on the rise, with a 66 percent increase in dogs and a 150 percent increase in cats over the past 10 years.

Osteoarthritis is a kind of arthritis caused by inflammation or damage in joint tissue. Genetics, injury, or bone abnormalities can all be factors. The disease is chronic and degenerative and can make it difficult for pets to move around as they get older.

Excess weight can both precede OA and make it worse. When a pet is overweight, they can develop chronic pain that leads to stress on joints. If they already have OA, that joint discomfort can prevent them from being active, leading to weight gain. That worsens the condition, and the cycle continues.

A dog is 2.3 times more likely to be diagnosed with OA if it's obese, while cats are 1.2 times more likely. Dogs suffering from the condition tend to display symptoms like putting their weight off to one side when sitting, avoiding stairs, or appearing uninterested in playing. Cats might have loose or matted hair because they can't maneuver to groom certain parts of their body.

Although OA can be seen at any age, it’s often mistaken for old age and a pet slowing down naturally. If you notice your pet is either soft around the middle or moving more slowly, it’s best to see a veterinarian. Pets who are overweight or suffering from OA—or both—can benefit from treatments like special diets.

There Are 2373 Squirrels in New York's Central Park, Census Finds

iStock/maximkabb
iStock/maximkabb

Central Park in New York City is home to starlings, raccoons, and exotic zoo animals, but perhaps the most visible fauna in the area are the eastern gray squirrels. Thanks to a team of citizen scientists, we now know exactly how many of the rodents occupy the space—approximately 2373 of them, according to a census reported by Smithsonian.

In October 2018, a group called the Squirrel Census—with help from the Explorers Club, the NYU Department of Environmental Studies, Macaulay Honors College, the Central Park Conservancy, and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation—organized a squirrel survey across all 840 acres of Central Park. For 11 days, more than 300 volunteers staked out their sections of the park twice a day—at dawn and dusk when the crepuscular animals are most active—and noted each squirrel they spotted. They also recorded how the squirrels looked, vocalized, behaved, and reacted to humans.

The research was analyzed and presented at an Explorers Club event in New York City on June 20. All the non-peer-reviewed findings—which includes a printed report, an audio report on a vinyl 45, 37 pages of data, collectible squirrel cards, and large maps of the park and the squirrel locations—are available to purchase for $75 from the Squirrel Census website.

This isn't the first time a massive census has been conducted of a public park's squirrel population. In 2011, the Squirrel Census launched with its first survey of Atlanta's Inman Park. They've conducted satellite squirrel counts at other parks, but Central Park is just the second park the organization has investigated in person.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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