A new discovery revealed that the sea creature referred to as the giant Pacific octopus is actually made up of two different species.
The new giant octopus species was hiding in plain sight for so many years until an undergraduate student took a closer look at the eight-armed aquatic animal.
Frilled Giant Pacific Octopus Discovered
Scientists have long suspected that the giant Pacific octopus was an umbrella name for the sea creatures that covers more than just one species. The hunch has now been confirmed by Alaska Pacific University undergraduate student Nathan Hollenbeck, who focused his senior thesis on studying the giant octopus.
Hollenbeck spent time with Alaska's shrimp fishers, who made a living by lowering pots with bait into the water to catch shrimp. Sometimes a giant octopus crawls into the pots to eat the shrimp and perhaps also out of curiosity.
After simply looking at the octopuses that the shrimp fishers brought up out of the water, Hollenbeck realized that he was able to identify two different kinds. There was the giant Pacific octopus that looked like most of the others, and then there was a second type that featured distinctive frills along the lengths of their bodies and had so-called eyelashes of raised skin. They also had two white spots at the front of their head, compared to only one white spot in the others.
To make sure that his discovery of a new giant octopus species is legitimate, Hollenbeck collected DNA from the new species by swiping their skin using cotton swabs. This is the first time that a researcher collected DNA samples from octopuses through such a method. Hollenbeck also cut off very small pieces off the arms of the octopuses.
After analyzing the DNA samples, the new species was confirmed and named for now as the frilled giant Pacific octopus. Research is now ongoing to determine various details about the animal, such as its estimated population and the impacts of fishing on the species.
New Giant Octopus Species Was Hiding In Plain Sight
The DNA samples confirmed the new discovery, but it remains hard to imagine how a second giant octopus species was found through simple observation.
"Presumably, people have been catching these octopuses for years and no one ever noticed," said David Scheel, Hollenbeck's advisor who helped him publish his discovery on the American Malacological Bulletin.
The new species is not yet fully described and named, but the frilled giant Pacific octopus is definitely one of the strangest scientific discoveries ever.