The Pacific Northwest tree octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) can be found
in the temperate
rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast of North America.
Their habitat lies on the Eastern side of the Olympic mountain range,
adjacent to Hood Canal. These solitary cephalopods reach an average size
(measured from arm-tip to mantle-tip,) of 30-33 cm. Unlike most other
cephalopods, tree octopuses are amphibious, spending only their early life
and the period of their mating season in their ancestral aquatic environment.
Because of the moistness of the rainforests and specialized skin adaptations,
they are able to keep from becoming desiccated for prolonged periods of time,
but given the chance they would prefer resting in pooled water.
An intelligent and inquisitive being (it has the largest brain-to-body ratio
for any mollusk), the tree octopus explores its arboreal world by both touch
and sight. Adaptations its ancestors originally evolved in the three
dimensional environment of the sea have been put to good use in the spatially
complex maze of the coniferous Olympic
rainforests. The challenges and richness of this environment (and the
intimate way in which it interacts with it,) may account for the tree
octopus's advanced behavioral development. (Some evolutionary theorists
suppose that "arboreal adaptation" is what laid the groundwork in primates
for the evolution of the human mind.)
Reaching out with one of her eight arms, each covered in sensitive suckers, a
tree octopus might grab a branch to pull herself along in a form of
locomotion called tentaculation; or she might be preparing to strike at an
insect or small vertebrate, such as a frog or rodent, or steal an egg from a
bird's nest; or she might even be examining some object that caught her
fancy, instinctively desiring to manipulate it with her dexterous limbs
(really deserving the title "sensory organs" more than mere "limbs",) in
order to better know it.
Tree octopuses have eyesight comparable to humans. Besides allowing them to
see their prey and environment, it helps them in inter-octopus relations.
Although they are not social animals like us, they display to one-another
their emotions through their ability to change the color of their skin: red
indicates anger, white fear, while they normally maintain a mottled brown
tone to blend in with the background.
The reproductive cycle of the tree octopus is still linked to its roots in
the waters of the Puget Sound from where it is thought to have originated.
Every year, in Spring, tree octopuses leave their homes in the Olympic National Forest and migrate
towards the shore and, eventually, their spawning grounds in Hood Canal.
There, they congregate (the only real social time in their lives,) and find
mates. After the male has deposited his sperm, he returns to the forests,
leaving the female to find an aquatic lair in which to attach her strands of
egg-clusters. The female will guard and care for her eggs until they hatch,
refusing even to eat, and usually dying from her selflessness. The young will
spend the first month or so floating through Hood Canal, Admiralty Inlet, and
as far as North Puget Sound before eventually moving out of the water and
beginning their adult lives.
Why It's Endangered
Although the tree octopus is not officially listed on the Endangered Species
List, we feel that it should be added since its numbers are at a critically
low level for its breeding needs. The reasons for this dire situation
include: decimation of habitat by logging and suburban encroachment; building
of roads that cut off access to the water which it needs for spawning;
predation by foreign species such as house cats; and booming populations of
its natural predators, including the bald eagle and sasquatch. What few that make it
to the Canal are further hampered in their reproduction by the growing
problem of pollution from farming and residential run-off. Unless immediate
action is taken to protect this species and its habitat, the Pacific
Northwest tree octopus will be but a memory.
The possibility of Pacific Northwest tree octopus extinction is not an
unwarranted fear. Other tree octopus species -- including the Douglas octopus
and the red-ringed madrona sucker -- were once abundant throughout the
Cascadia region, but have since gone extinct because of threats similar to
those faced by paxarbolis, as well as overharvesting by the
now-illegal tree octopus trade.
The history of the tree octopus trade is a sad one. Their voracious appetite
for bird plumes having exhausted all the worthy species of that family, the
fashionistas moved on to cephalopodic accoutrements during the early 20th
Century. Tree octopuses became prized by the fashion industry as ornamental
decorations for hats, leading greedy trappers to wipe out whole populations
to feed the vanity of the fashionable rich. While fortunately this practice
has been outlawed, its effects still reverberate today as these millinery
deprivations brought tree octopus numbers below the critical point where even
minor environmental change could cause disaster.
How You Can Help
Here are a few things that you can do to help save the Pacific
Northwest tree octopus:
Write your representatives to let them know that you are concerned and
that you feel the tree octopus should be included on the Endangered Species
List and given special protection.
Help build awareness of the tree octopus by telling your friends and
Place a tentacle ribbon on your website.
Participate in tree octopus awareness marches. You can demonstrate their
plight during the march by having your friends dress up as tree octopuses
while you attack them in a lumberjack costume.
Pamphlet your neighborhood. Tentacle ribbons make excellent doorknob
Join and donate to an organization committed to conservation, such as
Boycott companies that use non-tree-octopus-safe wood harvesting
Sign an online petition! Nothing activates activity like an Internet
Pacific Northwest Jumping-Slugs â€” These little-understood gastropods of
the genus Hemphillia, including
the threatened Dromedary Jumping-Slug of the Olympic Peninsula, protect
themselves from predation by jumping to safety.
Monster â€” Known only from its rocky nests and porcelain-like eggs,
Cryptogorgopetronidus is so endangered that existential
environmentalists wonder if it ever existed at all.
Dwarf Orca â€” Rare miniture killer
whale sometimes seen in Cascadian waters. Now being bred as a family pet!
Palouse Earthworm â€” This threatened earthworm (Driloleirusamericanus) is native to the Palouse prairies of Washington and
Idaho. They can grow up to three feet in length, are pinkish-white, and
smell of lilies.
The Red Crabs of
Christmas Island â€” Once every year, 120 million of these forest crabs
migrate enmasse from their inland burrows to the sea to
spawn. Along the way, over a million are crushed by traffic and many die of
dehydration crossing deforested land. The offspring of those that survive
then have to contend with super-colonies of yellow crazy
ants, introduced to the island by the thoughtless actions of Man.
The Australian Drop
Bear â€” Thylarctos plummetus is a large, arboreal, predatory
marsupial related to the Koala that ambushes prey by dropping on it from
the forest canopy.
Coconut Crab â€” This
hermit crab, Birgus latro, is the world's largest terrestrial
arthropod. It lives in the costal forests of Indo-Pacific islands, where it
spends the day sleeping in burrows and the nights climbing palm trees
looking for coconuts to crack open with it's mighty claws. It's also
rumored to steal things from people and lurk on trashcans.
Mangrove Killifish â€” This unique fish spends several months out of the
year living above water in the trees of mangrove swamps.
Sabertooth Salmon â€” The 3
meter (10 foot) long Smilodonichthysrastrosus once prowled
the shores and rivers of Cascadia, attacking Cretaceous octopus swimming in
the waters. Could escaping this menace have been the impetus for arboreal
Fur-Bearing Trout â€” Also
sometimes called Beaver Trout, these species of the Artikdander
genus can be found in the chilly streams and rivers throughout the northern
regions of North America.
Yeti Crab â€” This
crustacean (Kiwahirsuta), found near mysterious Easter
Island, protects itself against the frigid waters with a silky covering of
blond fur on its arms and legs.
â€” Fons volatilis is a freshwater squid found in the Everglades that
shoots insect prey out of the air with jets of water and is celebrated
during the annual Festival of the Freshwater Squid in Sebring, Florida.
Flying Squid â€” Squid
species in the Ommastrephidae family are known for their ability to glide
through the air just above the open ocean, using their fins and stretched
arm membranes as wings. Their numbers have been dropping due to
FearsomeCreaturesoftheLumberwoods â€” A 1911 book
by William T. Cox that lists little-known animals, most now extinct,
discovered by lumberjacks in the wilds of North America.
World Conservation Union – An
international organization whose mission is "To influence, encourage and
assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and
diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is
equitable and ecologically sustainable."
The Wildlife Fund – The WWF works to
preserve genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity throughout the world.