The giant Pacific octopus has long been thought of as one of the more fascinating creatures in the animal kingdom. Like many other octopuses, this particular species is well-known for its ability to disguise itself. And it appears to be so skilled in the art of disguise that the creatures we call “giant Pacific octopuses” actually represent two genetically distinct species.
For the past five years, scientists have suspected the existence of a similar yet ultimately different species that may be mistaken for the giant Pacific octopus, which is also known by the scientific name Enteroctopus dofleini. According to Live Science, it was in 2012 when researchers from Alaska Pacific University first spotted a member of the Enteroctopus family with unique DNA. While the scientists ended up testing two similar octopuses with varying genetics, the animals were released before they could be photographed, leaving the team without any visual proof that they represented two separate species.
With that shortcoming in mind, Alaska Pacific University researchers David Scheel and Nate Hollenbeck sought to gather definitive physical proof in shrimp traps, where the giant Pacific octopus is often caught as bycatch in Alaska. A total of 21 live octopuses were collected, and out of those creatures, 14 were associated with Enteroctopus dofleini. Quartz wrote that the other seven looked very similar to the confirmed giant Pacific octopuses, albeit with their mantles covered in frills. These “outliers” also had some other unique features not found in E. dofleini, including two white spots on their heads instead of the usual one spot, and long, thin papillae located over each of their eyes.
After gathering swabs of epithelial cells from the octopuses’ skin and testing the swabs at the laboratory, the researchers confirmed that the seven octopuses with different physical features came from a genetically distinct species from Enteroctopus dofleini. The newly discovered creature was called a “frilled giant Pacific octopus,” though as noted by Quartz, there is no official scientific name for the species at the moment.
“Presumably, people have been catching these octopuses for years and no one ever noticed,” Scheel said in a statement quoted by Earther.
While the actual giant Pacific octopus can be found in various parts of the Pacific Ocean, including Alaska, multiple other parts of the U.S., and the sea off the Japanese coast, it appears that its frilled cousin is much harder to find. In their study published this week in the journal BioOne, Hollenbeck and Scheel explained that they have yet to spot the species outside of its usual range, which is from Juneau, Alaska, to the Bering Sea. As more research is still needed, the scientists have yet to determine its conservation status and population count.
According to National Geographic‘s fact sheet for the animal, the giant Pacific octopus is so good at disguising itself that it can even mimic rocks, as well as corals with more elaborate patterns. The species could live an average of three to five years in the wild, and could grow to be anywhere between 9.75 inches and 16 feet long, with weights as low as 22 pounds and as heavy as 110 pounds. Although population information is also unavailable, the creature, which is also capable of opening jars or solving mazes, is not considered to be an endangered or vulnerable species.