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.

Meet Gracie: The Resident 'Bark Ranger' at Montana's Glacier National Park

NPS/A.W. Biel
NPS/A.W. Biel

Gracie isn't like the other park rangers at Glacier National Park in Montana: She’s not afraid to run after bighorn sheep and mountain goats in order to keep them at a safe distance from visitors. And while she doesn’t earn a salary, she’s content to work for belly rubs.

That’s because Gracie is a trained border collie who became the first employee-owned dog to become a “bark ranger” at a U.S. national park. She was accepted into Glacier’s wildlife shepherding program in July 2016 and has been protecting both humans and wildlife alike ever since.

One of Gracie's main duties is to keep sheep and goats away from areas with high foot traffic, like the Logan Pass parking lot. Through habituation, many of the park’s native species have begun to feel comfortable around humans, and sometimes even approach them. This is problematic for a couple of reasons.

“When closely approached or provided with human food, bighorn sheep and mountain goats can become aggressive; each has the ability to kick, bite, gore, or trample when feeling threatened,” the National Park Service (NPS) writes on its website. “This can cause injury—or in rare cases, death—to people and can cause the animal to be lethally removed from the population.”

In the winter, Gracie also helps shepherd deer out of highly populated areas in an effort to keep predators—namely mountain lions—away from people. Gracie completed a 10-week training program in Florence, Montana, where she learned how to control her direction and speed. She also knows when to retreat at the command of her owner, Mark Biel, who works as the park's natural resources program manager.

Gracie’s hard work has not gone unnoticed either. Her Instagram account, which chronicles the life of a #WorkingDog, has more than 17,000 followers. Check out some of the photos and videos below to see this very good girl in action.

Every time Gracie moves wildlife, Ranger Mark records how many animals were moved, how long it took to move them, where they went, and how long they stayed out of the area. This helps us evaluate the effectiveness of the program and learn about wildlife habits. The data show that in the park headquarters area, the deer have four established “escape routes” they favor when heading into the woods. Watch as this deer stops to decide which way to go, then heads to the left, toward the woods and one of those routes. Turning to the right would have taken it away from Gracie, but further into the housing area. This is an example of the program working as it’s intended. When pressured from a distance, the deer decides that the more comfortable place to be is in the woods, instead of further inside the populated area. 🐾🦌 #parkscience #barkrangergracie #barkranger #whitetail #keepwildlifewild​ @glaciernps @glacierconservancy @wind_river_bear_institute #workingbordercollie #workingdogsofig #glaciernationalpark #glacier

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What's the Difference Between a Rabbit and a Hare?

iStock.com/Carmen Romero
iStock.com/Carmen Romero

Hippity, hoppity, Easter's on its way—and so is the eponymous Easter bunny. But aside from being a magical, candy-carrying creature, what exactly is Peter Cottontail: bunny, rabbit, or hare? Or are they all just synonyms for the same adorable animal?

In case you've been getting your fluffy, long-eared mammals mixed up, we've traveled down the rabbit hole to set the record straight. Although rabbits and hares belong to the same grass-munching family—called Leporidae—they're entirely different species with unique characteristics. It would be like comparing sheep and goats, geneticist Steven Lukefahr of Texas A&M University told National Geographic.

If you aren't sure which animal has been hopping around and helping themselves to the goodies in your vegetable garden, take a closer look at their ears. In general, hares have longer ears and larger bodies than rabbits. Rabbits also tend to be more social creatures, while hares prefer to keep to themselves.

As for the baby animals, they go by different names as well. Baby hares are called leverets, while newborn rabbits are called kittens or kits. So where exactly do bunnies fit into this narrative? Originally, the word bunny was used as a term of endearment for a young girl, but its meaning has evolved over time. Bunny is now a cutesy, childlike way to refer to both rabbits and hares—although it's more commonly associated with rabbits these days. With that said, the Easter bunny is usually depicted as a rabbit, but the tradition is thought to have originated with German immigrants who brought their legend of an egg-laying hare called "Osterhase" to America.

In other ambiguous animal news, the case of Bugs Bunny is a little more complicated. According to scientist and YouTuber Nick Uhas, the character's long ears, fast speed, and solitary nature seem to suggest he's a hare. However, in the cartoon, Bugs is shown burrowing underground, which doesn't jive with the fact that hares—unlike most rabbits—live aboveground. "We can draw the conclusion that Bugs may be a rabbit with hare-like behavior or a hare with rabbit nesting habits," Uhas says.

The conversation gets even more confusing when you throw jackrabbits into the mix, which aren't actually rabbits at all. Jackrabbits are various species of large hare that are native to western North America; the name itself is a shortened version of "jackass rabbit," which refers to the fact that the animal's ears look a little like a donkey's.

A jackrabbit
Connor Mah, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

As Mark Twain once famously wrote about the creature, "He is just like any other rabbit, except that he is from one-third to twice as large, has longer legs in proportion to his size, and has the most preposterous ears that ever were mounted on any creature but the jackass." (Fun fact: Black-tailed jackrabbits' extra-long ears actually help them stay cool in the desert. The blood vessels in their ears enlarge when it gets hot, causing blood to flow to their ears and ridding their bodies of excess heat.)

Rabbits, hares, and jackrabbits all have one thing in common, though: They love a good salad. So if you happen across one of these hopping creatures, give them some grass or weeds—and skip the carrots. Bugs Bunny may have loved the orange vegetable, but most hares and rabbits would prefer leafy greens.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, send it to bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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