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.

A Python Swallowed a Crocodile Whole—and a Photographer Was There to Capture It All

KarenHBlack/iStock via Getty Images
KarenHBlack/iStock via Getty Images

As long as it can fit through their elastic jaws, there's not much pythons won't eat. This genus of snakes has been known to swallow everything from small bears to porcupines. As Live Science reports, a python was recently spotted eating a crocodile in Australia—and the disturbing encounter was caught on camera.

On May 31, 2019, the Australian nonprofit GG Wildlife Rescue Inc. shared photos a kayaker named Martin Muller captured of a snake inhaling a crocodile outside Mount Isa in Queensland. The snake was an olive python—a native Australian species that's found exclusively on the continent. Pythons can subdue large prey by wrapping their powerful bodies around it and constricting the animal until it suffocates. Killing a large, aggressive predator like a freshwater crocodile is only half the job. Once its prey is ready to eat, the python opens its jaw, which can stretch several times larger than its head, and gradually consumes its meal, a process that can take hours.

The images below offer a rare look at this brutal act of nature. Muller captured the entire scene, from the python wrangling the croc to the gluttonous feeding that takes place afterwards. The last photos in the series show the python with a large, lumpy bulge in its belly—a sign of its success.

Pythons have been spotted eating crocodiles and alligators in the past, and it doesn't always end well for them. In 2005, a Burmese python in Florida—where they're an invasive species—burst open after trying to swallow an alligator whole. If this python spotted in Australia can stomach its meal, the croc will potentially sustain the snake for months.

[h/t Live Science]

An Underpass for Turtles in Wisconsin Is Saving Dozens of the Little Guys’ Lives

Dmytro Varavin/iStock via Getty Images
Dmytro Varavin/iStock via Getty Images

Why did the turtle cross the road? Because an underground tunnel made it safe to do so.

In 2016, the Wisconsin Departments of Transportation and Natural Resources partnered with the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to construct a tunnel beneath Highway 66, hoping to cut down on high turtle mortality rates, reports Robert Mentzer for Wisconsin Public Radio.

The tunnel, with Jordan Pond on one side and wetlands on the other, was a noble venture, but the turtles had no way of knowing it was a crossing point rather than a dark and potentially dangerous hole. So Pete Zani, herpetologist and associate professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, installed aluminum flashing outside of each opening, which would reflect the sky and let turtles know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Zani also installed grates above the tunnel to make it less shadowy, and a small cul-de-sac in a nearby piece of the fencing to encourage turtles who had missed the tunnel to turn around.

Zani and his team found that in the first year after construction, 85 percent fewer turtles were killed on the road, and no baby turtles were among the casualties. In the last few years combined, only 40 turtles died, compared to 66 deaths in 2015 alone.

That’s great news for local turtles, of course, and it’s great news for local humans, too. The intersection in question is always busy with truckers, commuters, and families en route to Jordan Pond, and turtle crossing can exacerbate traffic congestion and increase the chance of accidents.

Not all turtles have caught on, however, and it looks like some might never get the memo. Zani found that about 30 percent of snapping turtles and 20 percent of painted turtles make it through the tunnel, and those numbers have been consistent each year since construction. “They either get it or they don’t,” Zani told Wisconsin Public Radio.

Other animals are getting it, too. As part of the experiment, Zani set up a turtle-wrangling program in which students monitored trail cameras for turtle activity outside the underpass. In photos captured by the cameras, they noticed that rodents, mink, skunks, raccoons, and even house cats were traveling by turtle tunnel.

[h/t Wisconsin Public Radio]

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