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It seems that the octopi may be allying with the cats, jellyfish, and apes to declare war on the human race.

So, why are cephalopods kicking butt when pretty much everything else in the oceans is dying? Doubleday and her co-authors are still investigating, but they suspect it has to do with rapid population turnover rates. “Cephalopods tend to boom and bust—they’re called the weeds of the sea,” Doubleday said. “If environmental conditions are good, they can rapidly exploit those conditions because they grow so fast.”

One reason environmental conditions might have improved is that humans are picking off cephalopods’ main competitors—predatory fish. Other large-scale changes like global warming could also be playing a role. “I don’t think it’s any one single factor,” Doubleday said. “But something’s changing on quite a large scale that’s giving cephalopods an edge.”

Sounds like an Axis of Oceanic Evil to me.

More seriously, is this connected to climate change? Maybe.

As the oceans continue to change, the long-term fate of all marine organisms remains uncertain. For instance, early laboratory evidence suggests that ocean acidification might impair the development of some cephalopods. And as squid and octopuses become a larger part of human diets, we’re harvesting more cephalopods from the sea than ever before.

Another strange possibility is that cephalopods will become too weedy and run out of food. If that happens? “They’re highly cannibalistic—they might start eating each other if they overgrow,” Doubleday said.

In short, it’s too early to predict whether octopuses will continue to boom or whether the oceans will devolve into a frenzied cannibalism fest. Still, if an intelligent race of tentacled underwater beings winds up outmaneuvering us and taking over the planet, we can’t say there weren’t warning signs.

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  • N__B

    Today’s debate topic is “A growing cephalopod population: good or bad for tentacle porn?”

    • Ahuitzotl

      only for suckers

  • Most ecosystems exist in a delicate balance. Upset that balance, and one force or another will seem out of balance until a counterveiling force restores order or the system collapses. With the oceans, we may wind up with systemic collapse.

  • Karen24

    I own a necklace shaped like an octopus, with the main body a large pearl and the tentacles in gold. I intend to use this to show my loyalty to our new Cephalopod Overlords.

    More seriously, at least Cephalopoda are really cool, smart animals benefiting from human foolishness. Typically it’s grackles, fire ants, rats, or kudzu — aka nightmares that should be nuked from orbit.

    • Denverite

      They’re also super tasty. Grilled, fried, raw, it’s all good.

      • advocatethis

        Karen24 will, I think, gain much more favor with The Cephalopod Overlords with her approach than you with yours. You might want to work on your cephalopod sucking up.

        • Karen24

          My necklace actually made a TSA agent smile and chat with me. It has magical powers endowed by the Old Ones, I think.

          • Ahuitzotl

            Hm. You haven’t seen little Timmy around recently, have you?

  • rea

    they’re called the weeds of the sea

    I always though seaweed was the weed of the sea.

    • advocatethis

      A sign of how clever they are (the octopi, not the seaweed).

  • Warren Terra

    the robust population growth of these purely aquatic cephalopods should not distract us from the campaign to save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus!

  • Unemployed_Northeastern

    Coincidentally or not, there are multiple new books out on octopuses. They are ferociously smart creatures – perhaps as smart as dolphins or some primates – and that has scientists absolutely flabbergasted because without exception every highly intelligent animal has a long lifespan. Except octopuses, most of which don’t live more than five years. But they can use tools and their problem-solving abilities are almost off the charts. I remember reading a test where they put one octopus in a maze with a crab at the other end while a second octopus was placed in a way that it could watch. The first octopus quickly and methodically worked its way through the maze. If it made a wrong turn, it wouldn’t repeat it. When the second octopus was placed in the maze, it went immediately to the crab with no mistakes. They ran this again and again with different octopuses; always with this result. And aquariums have a constant problem of devising tanks that the octopuses can’t escape from: they can figure out pretty much any latch or screw in very short order.

    Oh yeah, it’s octopuses, not octopi – the word is Greek, not Latin.

    • Karen24

      Didn’t an octopus escape from an aquarium just a few weeks ago by figuring out how to get out of its tank, open a drain cover, and slide back to the ocean?

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        Yes, that was in New Zealand. There’s another great story that starts with a graduate student. His research involved crabs in some way, and the crabs in his tanks kept disappearing. Being a graduate student, he naturally thought it was sabotage. Eventually he convinced his adviser/mentor (and author of the book where I get this story) to hide in the lab at night to see who was taking his crabs. Turns out an octopus in a tank clear on the other side of the lab was undoing the latches on its lid, squeezing out, shuffling across the room, climbing up the crab tank, undoing its latches, squeezing in, eating the crabs, getting back out of the tank, refastening the damn lid, going back across the room, and back into its own tank (and refastening that lid). It’s maybe the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.

        • John Revolta

          Now THAT’S what I call armed robbery.

        • advocatethis

          That’s one of those stories that I want so much to be true that I don’t want to check to confirm it. Which worries me; does that make me a Republican?

          • Pseudonym

            Only if you’re a crab.

          • Unemployed_Northeastern

            The tale is from Eugene Kaplan’s book “Sensuous Seas: Tales of a Marine Biologist.” Page 15.

    • Dennis Orphen
    • Origami Isopod

      Oh yeah, it’s octopuses, not octopi – the word is Greek, not Latin.

      A flowchart for you.


      • sonamib

        That was fun, thanks for sharing!

      • Joseph Slater

        That is outstanding.

      • Pseudonym

        So is it Isopoda, Isopodes, or Isopods?

        (Also, storing that image as a JPEG makes my brain hurt almost as much as “octopi”.)

    • NonyNony

      Oh yeah, it’s octopuses, not octopi – the word is Greek, not Latin.

      More importantly, the word is an English word and so either octopuses or octopi are correct. In English you can make the plural of octopus ‘octopi’ even though it’s Greek and not Latin because English is the rogue language that hides in a dark alley and shivs other languages for their vocabulary and grammar.

      (Though if you’re going for pretentious, the proper go-to is “octopodes” given the Greek root of the word).

      • Warren Terra

        Thank the FSM someone brought “octopodes” to the discussion!

        • Philip

          Our Lord and Savior the Most Benevolent FSM is itself a close relative of the common octopode, of course.

    • djw

      without exception every highly intelligent animal has a long lifespan

      Aren’t crows in the 6-8 year range?

      • Denverite

        The ones with three eyes live for either 125 years or thousands of years depending on whether they’re in the books or the show.

      • Unemployed_Northeastern

        There appears to be no real meaningful distinction between crows and ravens, and some ravens commonly go to 20 years old. Crows 7-9 years, which is still roughly twice the lifetime of most octopuses. The other thing that throws scientists for a loop is that octopuses’ brains are highly decentralized: some is in their head, and some is in each limb.

  • muddy

    I like the happy smile in the illustration.

  • J. Otto Pohl

    Just like with the jelly fish the octopus provides us with yummy food. I had some very good octopus in cream sauce in the Volt region once. But for fusion food I am thinking lots of Tako Tacos. ;-)

    • galanx

      I like the Taiwanese roast squid-on-a-stick. You can carry it around the night market while you bite its litle arms off.

  • Bruce Vail

    Cool cartoon. It’s supposed to represent Southern Pacific Railroad, I guess.

    • Hogan

      Yep. The graveyard at the bottom is labeled “Mussel Slough.”

      • advocatethis

        I’m always tempted to recommend Norris’s “The Octopus,” but I read and liked it as a college freshman and I fear it’s just not going to hold up that well.

  • Nate W.

    It seems that the octopi…

    It’s octopuses. Using Latin pluralization in English is silly enough when it’s applied to Latin words—using it for Greek words is both silly and wrong.

    • Honoré De Ballsack

      Oh yeah, it’s octopuses, not octopi – the word is Greek, not Latin.

      It’s octopuses. Using Latin pluralization in English is silly enough when it’s applied to Latin words—using it for Greek words is both silly and wrong.

      FYI: If you’re going to form the plural in Greek, it’s “octopodes.”

      Also, I’ve always felt vaguely guilty about ordering grilled octopus in restaurants (often Greek restaurants)–but now that I hear the population is booming, I’m gonna be eating as many of those tasty little purple guys as my bank account will allow.

      • Nate W.

        Octopodes is right in Greek, but English is confusing enough (and has enough irregular plurals) without having to look at each noun’s language of origin (and declension) to figure out how to pluralize it.

        • Philip

          Gotta do something to keep spelling bee contestants on their toes!

        • Ahuitzotl

          This is the english language, if you can’t make it more complicated than necessary, then you just aren’t trying, & are letting the side down.

    • Warren Terra

      I acknowledge that it’s bad linguistics, when I was a kid I was taught the plural of the English word “octopus” was the English word “octopi”, and I’d bet that “octopi” featured in no few dictionaries.

      • Mike in DC

        “Octopia is an anarcho-syndicalist commune…”

  • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

    Where are Faith Domergue and Kenneth Tobey when we need them?

    Hate to be sexist, but she had some gorgeous bedroom eyes

  • NonyNony

    I have no worries about rampant population growth among the octopuses because properly prepared octopus is delicious. So I’m sure once people realize just how good it tastes we’ll get that population down to “endangered” levels in no time at all.

    • Philip

      I can’t eat them :( For the same reason I don’t eat pork anymore. It just feels wrong to eat something intelligent. Fortunately for my protein intake, cows and chickens remain dumb as ever.

      • BubbaDave

        I choose not to think about how smart pigs may be, but I’m a recent convert away from octopus-eating. I miss them in my sushi, but… Food that uses tools is not food.

      • Ahuitzotl

        Don’t try Republican, no matter what you are told.

  • Quite Likely

    Nice, cephalopods are awesome. I approve of this much more than the jellyfish population explosion.

    • galanx


  • galanx

    As for the evolution of an intelligent octopus, it’s been done (ahem).


  • Halloween Jack

    Related, from the Onion: Dolphins Evolve Opposable Thumbs

  • Emmryss

    Did someone mention jellyfish?

    As in this Climate Action Performance Poem — “We’re the jellyfish gang / We’re taking over the seas …” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-4lIVDJKc4

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