July 16, 2021

Tree Octopus

         Among the excerpts read at yesterday’s Strong Women-Strange Worlds on-line group author reading was one including far-future squid that hunt in packs.  (Sea Wolf by Anna Burke.  For more info about this and yesterday’s other authors and their amazing books, see here.  And you are most enthusiastically invited to attend our next event on August 6!)  At any rate, I do love cephalopods, and now seems a good time to share with you the tree octopus.
        I love the idea of highly intelligent octopuses swinging through the trees, and I am far from the only one who has found this idea marvelously appealing.  It’s not too outrageous to imagine that these inquisitive creatures could have crawled out of the oceans and adapted to live in coastal areas all around the world.  Many people have also imagined them living in space.  The thing is, cephalopods are perfect for speculative possibilities.  They are intelligent, but their intelligence is of a sort so alien to our own that it’s fascinating to imagine how it could develop further.  They don’t have opposable thumbs, but they are nevertheless capable of the same sorts of physical feats that were tied in with human evolution: holding things while moving, manipulating objects, fine motor coordination, and so on.  They have good eyesight and other senses, they demonstrate emotion, and they are altogether a perfect blend of strange and familiar.
        According to previous authors, most tree octopuses climb from branch to branch with their  well-adapted arms, but there are some other land species, including some that glide between trees by spinning frisbee-like, and some that spend more time walking on the ground.  Or what about using their legs almost as a spider uses its silk, both as web and as cable to drop down on?  These possibilities notwithstanding, my favorite image is still that of the agile and carefree  octopus swinging from branch to branch 
        The most in-depth look at the famous Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is on the web site by Lyle Zapato, where there’s lots of excellent information about the ecology and history of this beautiful species, as well as links to the astonishingly wide array of literature and other media featuring tree octopuses.  (Indeed, the web site is perhaps too good.  It has been used in a number of studies demonstrating how much difficulty children (and adults?) have in evaluating the reliability of information on the internet.  Should you have any questions, I direct you to remind yourself of the theme of this blog.)
        Octopuses that hunt velociraptors, octopuses that live in underground caverns, octopuses in space, octopuses in parallel dimensions, octopuses that devour humans, octopuses with fur or feathers or leaf-like integument, octopuses that sing, octopuses that use mind control…  What would you most like to see in the world of fantasy octopuses?
        And yes, as a little bonus Word action, the correct plural is octopusesOctopi is now generally accepted simply because it’s so commonly used, but it’s etymological nonsense.  It’s sticking a Latin plural on a Greek-derived word in an ill-informed effort to sound more educated than you clearly are.  
(If you want to go the obnoxiously erudite route, use the proper Greek-derived plural, which 
would be octopodes.  But nobody does this!)
        If you’d like to see some of my previous posts featuring cephalopods both real and fantastical, try

[Pictures: A New Dawn for the Tree Octopus, poster design by Lyle Zapato (Image from ZPi);

Squibbon, still from The Future is Wild docufiction miniseries, 2002 (image from Fandom);

Leaf Octopus by Alex Konstadt, 2013 (Image from DeviantArt);

Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus and Pine Clams by Iris Jay, 2015 (Image from irisjaycomics on weasyl).]


Pax said...

Octopuses are really cool creatures in reality. It seems almost immoral to eat them. Thanks for all these fun riffs where imagination takes off in wild and enjoyable directions.

Olga Godim said...

A lovely post. I think I want to incorporate a tree octopus into my next sci-fi story. Thanks for the idea.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Ooh, delighted to have provided some inspiration, Olga!

Pax, true, but then to be fair, pigs -- and plants -- are pretty cool, too.