8 Octopus Facts (one for each arm)

There's absolutely no telling how many moms and dads have reached a point during this holiday season when they've thought, "I can't do everything at once. I'm not an octopus, y'know!" Well, having eight arms might sound like fun, but there's more to being an octopus than spitting out ink and attending Detroit Red Wings games. Here are 8 facts about these fascinating aquatic creatures that you may not have known. Enjoy!

1. All varieties of octopus are venomous.

oct1.jpgFortunately, only a few species have enough venom to injure or kill a human being. One of these is the blue ringed octopus, which is responsible for at least two confirmed deaths. Octopi inject their venom using a tough beak-like mouth that sticks out of the side of their head. It's similar to a bird's beak and is made of the same tough material as a lobster's shell.

2. A female octopus, known as a hen, may lay 100 thousand eggs...

...over its one-to-two-week fertile period. The transparent eggs are protected by the mother in the octopus' lair for several weeks. In most species, the eggs hatch, and the larval octopi swim for the surface where they may remain for a month or more. The vast majority of them die during this period. Weather and turbulent water get many of them, while others are swallowed up along with plankton by larger sea creatures.

3. An octopus' "ink" serves three important purposes.

Most - but not all - octopus species come equipped with an "ink sac" that spews out a stream of dark liquid into the water when the creature is threatened. When frightened, an octopus often "swallows" water with its body and ejects it forcefully. This not only propels the animal away from the danger, but also forces out a trail of "ink." This ink, which may be red, brown, or black, is made of melanin, the same dark pigment that colors human skin and hair. The ink's effects are three-fold: First, the initial "jet" of ink visually distracts, confuses, and perhaps even frightens the predator. Secondly, it may interfere with the predator's sense of smell or sight. And third, once dispersed, the ink clouds the water to help give the octopus time to escape.

4. An octopus' suckers are arranged in two rows down each arm

Some species have more suckers than others. And while some species grow a standard number of suckers on each arm by the time they become adults, the number of suckers on the arms of other species may vary. In some cases, female octopi have more suckers than the men, but only because of what "makes the male the male." Read on.

5. One arm of a male octopus is, well, special.

The third right arm, to be exact. At the tip of this "hectocotylus" arm is the ligula, which serves as its reproductive organ. In some species, the arm is visibly different since it has fewer suckers than the other seven arms. When a male fertilizes a female's eggs, she doesn't necessarily lay them right away. She may hold them for days or weeks before she feels ready to do so.

6. An octopus sees the same thing upside down as right-side up.

oct2.jpgThe large and complex eyes of an octopus help it to perform the two functions most necessary for survival: finding food and avoiding trouble. While most of the rest of the creature's body is quite flexible in the water, the eyes are more solid. As a result, some species of octopus can squeeze through tight spaces only slightly larger than their eyes.

Oddly, an octopus' eyes have horizontal pupils (in direct contrast to felines, whose eyes have vertical pupils). What's even more unusual is that the octopus' eyes remain at the same orientation regardless of the creature's position. So if it turns on its side or even upside down, the gaze of the eyes remain fixed in relation to the horizon.

7. Octopi don't like the spotlight.

Octopi like to keep hidden away. They'll usually find a cave or a formation in the rocks that allows them to remain secluded, but smaller octopi may hide inside a clamshell. They can actually crawl inside and use their suckers to pull the shell closed. Once the creatures get larger, however, they find clamshells are more interesting because they tend to include a tasty clam. A hungry octopus may perform any of a number of steps to open a clamshell. It may drill into the shell using its beak, it may use digestive juices to soften up the shell to break inside, or it may use its suckers and arms to pull the shell apart.

8. An octopus may also eat its own.

A hungry adult octopus isn't shy about consuming young octopi. After all, the smaller creatures can't put up much of a fight.

What's more, a study published in the March 2008 edition of Marine and Freshwater Behaviour and Physiology describes a female octopus that attacked, suffocated, and spent two days eating a male who'd just mated with her 13 times over a 3.5-hour period. And you thought your significant other was needy...

Happy holidays, everyone!

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Zach Hyman, HBO
10 Bizarre Sesame Street Fan Theories
Zach Hyman, HBO
Zach Hyman, HBO

Sesame Street has been on the air for almost 50 years, but there’s still so much we don’t know about this beloved children’s show. What kind of bird is Big Bird? What’s the deal with Mr. Noodle? And how do you actually get to Sesame Street? Fans have filled in these gaps with frequently amusing—and sometimes bizarre—theories about how the cheerful neighborhood ticks. Read them at your own risk, because they’ll probably ruin the Count for you.

1. THE THEME SONG CONTAINS SECRET INSTRUCTIONS.

According to a Reddit theory, the Sesame Street theme song isn’t just catchy—it’s code. The lyrics spell out how to get to Sesame Street quite literally, giving listeners clues on how to access this fantasy land. It must be a sunny day (as the repeated line goes), you must bring a broom (“sweeping the clouds away”), and you have to give Oscar the Grouch the password (“everything’s a-ok”) to gain entrance. Make sure to memorize all the steps before you attempt.

2. SESAME STREET IS A REHAB CENTER FOR MONSTERS.

Sesame Street is populated with the stuff of nightmares. There’s a gigantic bird, a mean green guy who hides in the trash, and an actual vampire. These things should be scary, and some fans contend that they used to be. But then the creatures moved to Sesame Street, a rehabilitation area for formerly frightening monsters. In this community, monsters can’t roam outside the perimeters (“neighborhood”) as they recover. They must learn to educate children instead of eating them—and find a more harmless snack to fuel their hunger. Hence Cookie Monster’s fixation with baked goods.

3. BIG BIRD IS AN EXTINCT MOA.

Big Bird is a rare breed. He’s eight feet tall and while he can’t really fly, he can rollerskate. So what kind of bird is he? Big Bird’s species has been a matter of contention since Sesame Street began: Big Bird insists he’s a lark, while Oscar thinks he’s more of a homing pigeon. But there’s convincing evidence that Big Bird is an extinct moa. The moa were 10 species of flightless birds who lived in New Zealand. They had long necks and stout torsos, and reached up to 12 feet in height. Scientists claim they died off hundreds of years ago, but could one be living on Sesame Street? It makes sense, especially considering his best friend looks a lot like a woolly mammoth.

4. OSCAR’S TRASH CAN IS A TARDIS.

Oscar’s home doesn’t seem very big. But as The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland revealed, his trash can holds much more than moldy banana peels. The Grouch has chandeliers and even an interdimensional portal down there! There’s only one logical explanation for this outrageously spacious trash can: It’s a Doctor Who-style TARDIS.

5. IT’S ALL A RIFF ON PLATO.

Dust off your copy of The Republic, because this is about to get philosophical. Plato has a famous allegory about a cave, one that explains enlightenment through actual sunlight. He describes a prisoner who steps out of the cave and into the sun, realizing his entire understanding of the world is wrong. When he returns to the cave to educate his fellow prisoners, they don’t believe him, because the information is too overwhelming and contradictory to what they know. The lesson is that education is a gradual learning process, one where pupils must move through the cave themselves, putting pieces together along the way. And what better guide is there than a merry kids’ show?

According to one Reddit theory, Sesame Street builds on Plato’s teachings by presenting a utopia where all kinds of creatures live together in harmony. There’s no racism or suffocating gender roles, just another sunny (see what they did there?) day in the neighborhood. Sesame Street shows the audience what an enlightened society looks like through simple songs and silly jokes, spoon-feeding Plato’s “cave dwellers” knowledge at an early age.

6. MR. NOODLE IS IN HELL.

Can a grown man really enjoy taking orders from a squeaky red puppet? And why does Mr. Noodle live outside a window in Elmo’s house anyway? According to this hilariously bleak theory, no, Mr. Noodle does not like dancing for Elmo, but he has to, because he’s in hell. Think about it: He’s seemingly trapped in a surreal place where he can’t talk, but he has to do whatever a fuzzy monster named Elmo says. Definitely sounds like hell.

7. ELMO IS ANIMAL’S SON.

Okay, so remember when Animal chases a shrieking woman out of the college auditorium in The Muppets Take Manhattan? (If you don't, see above.) One fan thinks Animal had a fling with this lady, which produced Elmo. While the two might have similar coloring, this theory completely ignores Elmo’s dad Louie, who appears in many Sesame Street episodes. But maybe Animal is a distant cousin.

8. COOKIE MONSTER HAS AN EATING DISORDER.

Cookie Monster loves to cram chocolate chip treats into his mouth. But as eagle-eyed viewers have observed, he doesn’t really eat the cookies so much as chew them into messy crumbs that fly in every direction. This could indicate Cookie Monster has a chewing and spitting eating disorder, meaning he doesn’t actually consume food—he just chews and spits it out. There’s a more detailed (and dark) diagnosis of Cookie Monster’s symptoms here.

9. THE COUNT EATS CHILDREN.

Can a vampire really get his kicks from counting to five? One of the craziest Sesame Street fan theories posits that the Count lures kids to their death with his number games. That’s why the cast of children on Sesame Street changes so frequently—the Count eats them all after teaching them to add. The adult cast, meanwhile, stays pretty much the same, implying the grown-ups are either under a vampiric spell or looking the other way as the Count does his thing.

10. THE COUNT IS ALSO A PIMP.

Alright, this is just a Dave Chappelle joke. But the Count does have a cape.

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iStock
A New App Interprets Sign Language for the Amazon Echo
iStock
iStock

The convenience of the Amazon Echo smart speaker only goes so far. Without any sort of visual interface, the voice-activated home assistant isn't very useful for deaf people—Alexa only understands three languages, none of which are American Sign Language. But Fast Company reports that one programmer has invented an ingenious system that allows the Echo to communicate visually.

Abhishek Singh's new artificial intelligence app acts as an interpreter between deaf people and Alexa. For it to work, users must sign at a web cam that's connected to a computer. The app translates the ASL signs from the webcam into text and reads it aloud for Alexa to hear. When Alexa talks back, the app generates a text version of the response for the user to read.

Singh had to teach his system ASL himself by signing various words at his web cam repeatedly. Working within the machine-learning platform Tensorflow, the AI program eventually collected enough data to recognize the meaning of certain gestures automatically.

While Amazon does have two smart home devices with screens—the Echo Show and Echo Spot—for now, Singh's app is one of the best options out there for signers using voice assistants that don't have visual components. He plans to make the code open-source and share his full methodology in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

Watch his demo in the video below.

[h/t Fast Company]

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