Lucy Purdy was walking through the countryside of Dartmoor in Devon, United Kingdom when, along the way, she sniffed the smell of rotting flesh. When she proceeded to investigate where the foul smell came from, she saw a creature with resemblance to an octopus.
The mysterious creature has what appeared as red tentacles. Unlike a real octopus with eight tentacles, the bizarre creature she saw only had six tentacles. Intrigued, Purdy took a photo of the smelly pod lying on the ground and sent the image to Devon Wildlife Trust. Workers of the charity eventually identified it as the Clathrus archeri, also known as "octopus stinkhorn" or "devil's finger."
The octopus stinkhorn may look a lot like a marine cephalopod but it is actually an exotic fungus characterized by long red tentacles and a rancid smell. Its foul odor serves an important purpose: it attracts flies that help disperse the fungus' spores, allowing the species to spread.
The fungus' tentacles are initially white, and the fungus itself looks like a human hand. It will eventually turn into pinkish-red as it develops into an adult and its tentacles open up.
The octopus stinkhorn is an introduced species to Britain, where it currently spreads. It is native to New Zealand and Australia and was first discovered in the UK a century ago. Experts believe the species made it to the UK inside the crates of military weapons that were shipped from the Antipodes to the South West during World War I. It can also be found in North America, particularly in California where it is known to have been introduced with exotic plants.
It is often found emerging in clusters from the soil with decaying wood, foliage and old tree stumps. While the smell can be comparable to that of decaying flesh, the fungus is not poisonous and does not pose any known hazard.
The octopus stinkhorn is, in fact, edible but due to its putrid smell and foul taste, it isn't something that people would look for and serve for dinner. It could be eaten, though, in extreme instances, such as when you get lost in the wilderness and run short of food. The unexpanded eggs of the octopus stinkhorn, however, which are characterized by their gelatinous nature, are considered a delicacy in some countries.