Researchers have determined that giant Pacific octopus – the largest known octopus on Earth – is actually two distinct species. The discovery was made possible by several years of research.
Giant Pacific octopus is widely distributed acorss North Pacific, ranging from California to Alaska to Russia and Japan. It grows bigger and lives longer than any other octopus species.
In 2012, researchers from Alaska Pacific University and the US Geological Survey found a genetically distinct group of giant Pacific octopus in Prince William Sound. They returned those creatures to water collecting snips of arm tissue for DNA analysis. But they forgot to take images of those octopuses, so there was no visual evidence to confirm their identity.
To solve the problem, researchers used shrimp fishing pots as a snare to catch these octopuses. When shrimp fishers in Alaska lower baited pots into the water, they occasionally attract giant octopuses as well.
By using the same technique, researechers were able to capture 21 live octopuses. Of them, 14 were clearly giant Pacific octopuses while remaining looked phsically different. They had a distinctive frill along the length of their body. Moreover, they exhibited curious “eyelashes” of raised skin and two white spots on the front of the head instead of one.
All of the frilled octopuses had at least one of these traits while no single giant Pacific octopus cotained these features. DNA analysis also confirmed that they were separate species. Researches decided to call the new species frilled giant octopusus.
“Presumably, people have been catching these octopuses for years and no one ever noticed.” David Scheel from Alaska Pacific University told Earther.
The frilled giant octopus are yet to be described and officially named. Researchers suggest that further studies could provide better insights into the habitat as well as the population of these creatures.
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