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12 Outrageous Facts About Octopuses

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The octopus is a magnificent and mysterious creature. They’re well known for their eight tentacles, but did you know these other outstanding facts?

1. "OCTOPI" IS ONLY KIND OF THE PLURAL FOR OCTOPUS.

Need a name for your friendly neighborhood group of octopi? Octopi might not be the word you actually want. It came from a time when grammarians tried to regulate English to have similar endings to Latin. Other options include "octopuses" (which is the choice of the AP Stylebook, the guide that dictates grammar rules for most journalists) and "octopodes."

Kory Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster, breaks it down below.

2. THEY’RE SUPER SNEAKY.

As we’ve written about previously, scientists think octopuses are colorblind, but that doesn’t stop them from instantly camouflaging themselves when necessary. Matching the colors of the seabed or algae-covered rocks is no issue for them. What’s more, T. mimicus has been known to make itself look like other, much more dangerous creatures by changing shape. Just watch ...

3. THEY LOVE PLAYING WITH TOYS.

We wrote about the time an octopus broke into a library to read some books. They’ve also been known to play with rubber duckies, LEGOs, and even a diver’s camera. They’re often drawn to shiny things or objects they haven't seen before.

4. THEY’RE GREAT HOMEMAKERS.

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Octopuses find homes wherever they can, from bottles to shipwrecks. They’re known to move often in order to follow sources of food, but if they have a more permanent pad, they’ll put shells and other objects in an "octopus garden" outside to decorate.

5. THEY'D HAVE NO PROBLEM TAKING YOU DOWN.

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Usually, a human's interaction with an octopus wouldn't be much worse than getting some water squirted at you (as this guy learned). That being said, some people used to like a challenge, so they went big—octopus wrestling-big. Yes, in the middle of the 20th century, octopus wrestling was a very real thing. There was even a World Octopus Wrestling Championship. But Washington State quashed the games in 1976 with a law that made it illegal to “harass” an octopus. Because of that, you probably shouldn’t expect the sport to make a comeback.

6. THEY GET SPECIAL TREATMENT.

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In the eyes of the law, anyway. In 1986, the United Kingdom passed ASPA—or the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act—which severely restricted which animals could be used for research. The law included protections for “any living vertebrate other than man.” In 1993, they passed an amendment that would extend the law’s protections to “any invertebrate of the species Octopus vulgaris from the stage of its development when it becomes capable of independent feeding.” Many people cite their intelligence as evidence that octopuses are worthy of the exception.

7. THEY EAT OTHER OCTOPUSES WITH SHOCKING REGULARITY.

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If they’re hungry enough, an octopus will eat a younger member of its species. (A team of researchers even caught it on video for the first time last year.) Scientists have also observed a female octopus eating her mate after they did the deed.

In order to avoid being killed after copulation, male octopuses have special adaptations to help them. These include mating at arm’s length, special disguises, and even occasionally sacrificing a limb.

8. BUT SOMETIMES THEY DON’T KNOW WHEN TO STOP.

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What is worrying to some scientists is that the cannibalism isn’t always limited to other octopuses. Some octopuses have started eating their own limbs and then dying, which scientists originally chalked up to autotomy, a behavior in which an animal will break off a limb for self-protection. The animals would die soon after doing this, and others that had been near it would start doing the same thing.

Stress or boredom both could have caused the problem, but eliminating sources of either didn’t make anything better. Some now believe it could be a disease attacking the nervous system that’s causing this strange behavior.

9. SOME SCIENTISTS BELIEVE THEY HAVE PERSONALITIES.

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Through testing, scientists have found that individual octopuses respond differently to situations. This implies that, like humans, each octopus possesses individual characteristics.

10. EARLY RELATIVES MAY HAVE BEEN AROUND ALMOST 300 MILLION YEARS AGO.

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Now resting at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Pohlsepia is the octopus’ oldest ancestor. Like an octopus, it lacks a shell and has eight arms—the first creature to do so. It was found in the Pennsylvanian Francis Creek Shale of Illinois' Carbondale Formation.

11. THEY HAVE SPARKED MANY SEA MONSTER LEGENDS.

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The octopus probably sparked ideas of the Kraken, the akkorokamui, and more. When a ship was lost at sea, many people just accepted that the Kraken probably got a hold of it and that they likely wouldn’t see their loved ones again.

We first started drawing the Kraken as gigantic octopuses sometime around the 18th century (it started its life a little more crab-like) and the imagery has stuck—even though every example of the Kraken has now been debunked. The St. Augustine Monster, a creature that many thought could have been an unknown species of huge octopus we hadn’t yet discovered, later turned out to be parts of a definitely-discovered whale.

12. OCTOPUSES DON'T STICK TO THEMSELVES BECAUSE THEY CAN'T.

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Each one of an octopus' tentacles operates completely independently of the body as a whole, yet they don't get tied up in knots. How? It's been discovered that octopus tentacles can stick to everything except octopus skin, meaning that the creature is safe from itself.

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Roadside Bear Statue in Wales is So Lifelike That Safety Officials Want It Removed
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Wooden bear statue.

There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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10 Scientific Benefits of Being a Dog Owner
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The bickering between cat people and dog people is ongoing and vicious, but in the end, we're all better off for loving a pet. But if anyone tries to poo-poo your pooch, know that there are some scientific reasons that they're man's best friend.

1. YOU GET SICK LESS OFTEN.

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If cleaning commercials are to be believed, humanity is in the midst of a war against germs—and we shouldn't stop until every single one is dead. In reality, the amount of disinfecting we do is making us sicker; since our bodies are exposed to a less diverse mix of germs, our entire microbiome is messed up. Fortunately, dogs are covered in germs! Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found "dog-related biodiversity" is especially high on pillowcases). In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people—especially children—with cats or no pets.

2. YOU'RE MORE RESISTANT TO ALLERGIES.

Child and mother playing with a dog on a bed.
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While dog dander can be a trigger for people with allergies, growing up in a house with a dog makes children less likely to develop allergies over the course of their lives. And the benefits can start during gestation; a 2017 study published in the journal Microbiome found that a bacterial exchange happened between women who lived with pets (largely dogs) during pregnancy and their children, regardless of type of birth or whether the child was breastfed, and even if the pet was not in the home after the birth of the child. Those children tested had two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, that reduce the risk of common allergies, asthma, and obesity, and they were less likely to develop eczema.

3. YOU'LL HAVE BETTER HEART HEALTH.

Woman doing yoga with her dog.
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Everything about owning a dog seems to lend itself to better heart health. Just the act of petting a dog lowers heart rate and blood pressure. A 2017 Chinese study found a link between dog ownership and reduced risk of coronary artery disease, while other studies show pet owners have slightly lower cholesterol and are more likely to survive a heart attack.

4. YOU GET MORE EXERCISE.

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While other pets have positive effects on your health as well, dogs have the added benefit of needing to be walked and played with numerous times a day. This means that many dog owners are getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, lowering their risk of cardiovascular disease.

5. YOU'LL BE HAPPIER.

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Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Even for those people who are clinically depressed, having a pet to take care of can help them out of a depressive episode. Since taking care of a dog requires a routine and forces you to stay at least a little active, dog owners are more likely to interact with others and have an increased sense of well-being while tending to their pet. The interaction with and love received from a dog can also help people stay positive. Even the mere act of looking at your pet increases the amount of oxytocin, the "feel good" chemical, in the brain.

6. YOU HAVE A MORE ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE.

Large bulldog licking a laughing man.
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Not only does dog ownership indirectly tell others that you're trustworthy, your trusty companion can help facilitate friendships and social networks. A 2015 study published in PLOS One found that dogs can be both the catalyst for sparking new relationships and also the means for keeping social networks thriving. One study even showed that those with dogs also had closer and more supportive relationships with the people in their lives.

7. YOUR DOG MIGHT BE A CANCER DETECTOR.

Man high-fiving his dog.
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Your dog could save your life one day: It seems that our canine friends have the ability to smell cancer in the human body. Stories abound of owners whose dogs kept sniffing or licking a mole or lump on their body so they got it checked out, discovering it was cancerous. The anecdotal evidence has been backed up by scientific studies, and some dogs are now trained to detect cancer.

8. YOU'LL BE LESS STRESSED AT WORK.

Woman working on a computer while petting a dog.
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The benefits of bringing a dog to work are so increasingly obvious that more companies are catching on. Studies show that people who interact with a pet while working have lower stress levels throughout the day, while people who do not bring a pet see their stress levels increase over time. Dogs in the office also lead to people taking more breaks, to play with or walk the dog, which makes them more energized when they return to work. This, in turn, has been shown to lead to much greater productivity and job satisfaction.

9. YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOUR PERSONALITY.

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The kind of dog you have says a lot about your personality. A study in England found a very clear correlation between people's personalities and what type of dogs they owned; for example, people who owned toy dogs tended to be more intelligent, while owners of utility dogs like Dalmatians and bulldogs were the most conscientious. Other studies have found that dog owners in general are more outgoing and friendly than cat owners.

10. YOUR KIDS WILL BE MORE EMPATHETIC.

A young boy having fun with his dog.
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Though one 2003 study found that there was no link between pet ownership and empathy in a group of children, a 2017 study of 1000 7- to 12-year-olds found that pet attachment of any kind encouraged compassion and positive attitudes toward animals, which promoted better well-being for both the child and the pet. Children with dogs scored the highest for pet attachment, and the study notes that "dogs may help children to regulate their emotions because they can trigger and respond to a child's attachment related behavior." And, of course, only one pet will happily play fetch with a toddler.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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