Saturday, November 01, 2008

Endangered Tree Octopus

In my extensive research for my Otto the Octopus post, I stumbled across this website devoted to saving the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus.

The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) can be found in the temperate rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast of North America. Their habitat lies on the Eastern side of the Olympic mountain range, adjacent to Hood Canal. These solitary cephalopods reach an average size (measured from arm-tip to mantle-tip,) of 30-33 cm. Unlike most other cephalopods, tree octopuses are amphibious, spending only their early life and the period of their mating season in their ancestral aquatic environment. Because of the moistness of the rainforests and specialized skin adaptations, they are able to keep from becoming desiccated for prolonged periods of time, but given the chance they would prefer resting in pooled water.

An intelligent and inquisitive being (it has the largest brain-to-body ratio for any mollusk), the tree octopus explores its arboreal world by both touch and sight. Adaptations its ancestors originally evolved in the three dimensional environment of the sea have been put to good use in the spatially complex maze of the coniferous Olympic rainforests. The challenges and richness of this environment (and the intimate way in which it interacts with it,) may account for the tree octopus's advanced behavioral development. (Some evolutionary theorists suppose that "arboreal adaptation" is what laid the groundwork in primates for the evolution of the human mind.)

It has a ring of authenticity to it while being completely unbelievable at the same time. In fact, there's even a link to the Telegraph article on Otto over on the left.

So I did a little more investigating and found the Tree Octopus in Wikipedia. Wikipedia says:

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus was an internet hoax created in 1998 by Lyle Zapato.[1] This fictitious endangered species of cephalopod was given the Latin name "Octopus paxarbolis" (which means, roughly, "Pacific tree octopus"). It was purported to be able to live both on land and in water, and was said to live in the Olympic National Forest and nearby rivers, spawning in water where eggs are laid. Its major predator was said to be the Sasquatch.

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus website is among a number of sites commonly used in Internet literacy classes in schools, although it was not created for that purpose. Despite the falsehoods shown on the site, such as its support by "," the mentioning of other hoax species such as the Rock Nest Monster, the mountain walrus,
[2] and its affiliation with People for the Ethical Treatment of Pumpkins (P.E.T.PU.) (cleverly mixed with links to pages about real species and organizations), 24 of 25 students involved in one well-publicized test believed the content.[3][4] (emphasis added)

I'm glad I wasn't fooled.

Here's hoping the Otto story isn't a hoax!

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