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Lyle Zapato

Les Pieuvres de Paris

Lyle Zapato | 2015-08-10.6821 LMT | Entertainment | Retro

Decadent Parisian women partying on the back of an octopus.
Cliquez pour agrandir.

Les Pieuvres de Paris ("The Octopuses of Paris") is a French novel by Pierre Zaccone. Sadly, it's not about giant octopuses hosting drunken parties on their backs as they float down the Seine. Much like the equally misleading Trail of the Octopus, these octopuses are only metaphoric.


Lyle Zapato

Congolese Brain-Sucking Octopus

Lyle Zapato | 2015-06-29.4390 LMT | Food | Retro

In 1902, English language newspapers brought word from the Congo, via a rather dubious source, that an unknown freshwater cryptopus with a hankerin' for human thought-meat was prowling the Uele river (from the Sept. 7 San Francisco Call, also reprinted elsewhere):


It Hunts the Natives and Feeds Upon the Brains of Its Human Prey.

A Belgian officer just returned from the Congo Free State reports that in the caverns of the Uelle River there dwells a species of octopus that presents a grave danger to all who navigate the river in small boats.

The strange beasts are called "megwe" by the natives, and are very numerous in the neighborhood of the station of the Amadis, owing to the number of rocks and caves in that region. They attack the native canoes, capsizing them easily with their tentacles and, according to their state of hunger, seizing one or two men.

The octopus drags his human prey to his cavern and there, without inflicting the slightest external wounds, feeds on his victim's brains by inserting the points of his tentacles in his nostrils. He generally keeps his prey fifteen hours, then lets the body float out on the river.

"I was an eye witness to a disaster of this kind," says the Belgian. "A canoe was capsized in the river and one of the three occupants disappeared. When the survivors swam ashore they told us that an octopus had turned their boat over and carried off their companion.

"The next morning about 9 o'clock the body was found floating and no trace of any wound could be found, while the only abnormal appearance was the swollen state of the nostrils. On examination it was found that the brains had been extracted. The natives of the Uelle all dread the 'megwe.' while those of the Itimbri know nothing of its existence."

It turns out this report was over two years old -- the officer hadn't "just" returned (and wasn't "Belgian", but that's another matter). It went viral, 1900s style, because everything old is new again.

However, I'm leading the post with it since it's pithy and things are about to get more wordy, ambiguous, and French.


Lyle Zapato

Follow Me On Twitter?

Lyle Zapato | 2015-06-01.7845 LMT | Site | Announcement

I'm now on Twitter, for some reason.

Actually the reason was solely to make a reference to this tweet by the WWF.

Ever since I added how to write "tree octopus" in emojian to the languages section of the PNWTO FAQ, people have been emailing it to me. Like, just the emoji and nothing else for no apparent reason other than the enjoyment of typing emoji tree octopuses. Very weird.

So seeing what the WWF did, I thought Twitter would be a better venue for random tree-octopus emojilations. While I enjoy your emails, only I ever see them. Please retweet (or whatever you kids are doing nowadays) "🌲🐙" to the outside world for greater awareness.

I had no intention of using Twitter beyond that, but having an account consisting of only one tweet (whose context probably no one will remember in a few months) seemed somewhat sad (almost as sad as joining Twitter in 2015). So I guess I'll use it to link to any new blogs I happen to post. Like this one.

If you're one of the three people who mysteriously started following me on Twitter, then you are reading this because you followed that tweet here. And as followers you will no doubt follow the previous link back to my tweet about this blog post. Which will result in you following that link back here, and so on and so on, forever locked in obsessive social media behavior patterns, like ants caught in an ant mill, doomed to die of dehydration hunched over your phone as you continuously circle the digital pheromone trail to nowhere.

I'm sorry for the inconvenience. Good luck.

Lyle Zapato

Octopus: Devil Of The Trees

Lyle Zapato | 2014-12-29.0300 LMT | Weyerhaeuser Conspiracy | Retro


In less enlightened times, traveling sideshow exhibits, such as this one by Glen "Bones" Hartzell from 1942, demonized tree octopuses to the ignorant masses. This and other fear-inducing anti-octopus propaganda was concocted by the Timber Industry to encourage the eradication of tree octopuses, which they viewed as a threat to their profits. Read the updated Tree Octopus page for more info...

Lyle Zapato

"Sword of Fire": Mind-Controlling Alien Jungle Octopods

Lyle Zapato | 2014-12-14.9600 LMT | Mind Control | Paraterrestrials | Weyerhaeuser Conspiracy | Entertainment | Retro

Illustration from the novella "Sword of Fire" by Emmett McDowell, published in the Winter 1949 issue of Planet Stories (full scan here, mangled text version here). Spoilery synopsis follows:

Jupiter Jones, advanced explorer for the Galactic Colonization Board and misanthropic loner, is forced by low fuel to land his ship, the Mizar, on the distant jungle planet Yogol after he was accidentally space-warped beyond Alpha Centaurus. There he discovers that the native humanoids are ruled by purple-shelled octopods called the Anolyn, who ages ago shambled from the inland sea of Dra Dur and mind-controlled the humans by attaching their snail-like young to the back of the humans' necks, forcing the humans to carry the octopods around the jungle on litters, engage in blood-sports and inhuman orgies, and service their nameless cities from which the Anolyn lord over the world.


Lyle Zapato

Hildegard von Bingen's Octopus Visions

Lyle Zapato | 2014-11-11.6090 LMT | Retro | Art

In 1141, a land octopus living in the spandrels of the convent of Disibodenberg, in Germany, visited Hildegard von Bingen, the new head nun, and gave her visions, most likely via a combination of chromatophoric signals and pressure phosphenes from palpation of her eyeballs.

Being as she was steeped in her religion, and with the obvious cross-species language difficulties, she misinterpreted the octopus' attempt at communication as messages from the "voice of heaven". She recorded her theological interpretations of these visions in her book, Scivias ("know the ways"), which included the above illumination in the frontispiece.

Unlike later illustrations of her receiving the visions, which show divine light-rays from the sky as would suit the presumptions of the time, this original one was either done by her or made from her sketches. In fact, the image shows her sketching on a wax tablet, perhaps recording the event as it happened. So it's the most accurate depiction of the encounter -- one clearly more cephalopodic than theophanic.

(Thanks to reader Rich Thomas for bringing this to my attention.)

Lyle Zapato

Life In Darwin's Universe: Alien Octopuses & Other Earthly Analogues

Lyle Zapato | 2014-10-10.5928 LMT | Paraterrestrials | Nature

Hypothetical alien octopus by Wayne McLoughlin, from theories of Gene Bylinsky.

I previously blogged about V. A. Firsoff's Life Among the Stars, which, among other things, explained how tree octopuses may one day become a spacefaring species. Life in Darwin's Universe (1981) by Gene Bylinsky, with illustrations by Wayne Mcloughlin, covers similar ground, asking what shape intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe may take under Darwinian constraints using Earth species as analogies. Of course it includes octopuses.


Lyle Zapato

Help Fund Bobtail Squid Science

Lyle Zapato | 2014-08-07.8285 LMT | Nature

Sarah McAnulty and Andrea Suria, two Ph.D. students at the University of Connecticut, are working to understand how the immune system of Hawaiian Bobtail Squid is able to mediate the symbiosis between the squid and its bacterial symbiont, Vibrio fischeri:

The Hawaiian Bobtail squid has a glowing bacterium that lives in a specialized organ on their underside. As the squid swims at night, the bacteria glow, preventing predators from detecting the squid's silhouette against the moonlight. Squid immune cells are able to distinguish beneficial from harmful bacteria and know to kill only harmful bacteria. Our lab researches how the immune system makes this decision.

But the squid are hungry little guys who need lots of shrimp. So they (McAnulty and Suria, not the squid) have taken to crowdfunding site Experiment (like Kickstarter, only for science). Here's their project page, "How do Bobtail Squid choose their glowing bacterial partner?", and their video pitch:


Lyle Zapato

Hatchan The Octopus

Lyle Zapato | 2014-07-28.9260 LMT | Entertainment | Retro


Hatchan The Octopus (蛸の八ちゃん, "Tako no Hatchan") is a Japanese comic about an octopus, Hatchan, who goes on land to learn about being human and has various misadventures. The author, Suihō Tagawa (田河水泡), is more famous for his Norakuro character, a semi-autobiographical, anthropomorphic dog soldier in a thinly veiled Japanese Imperial Army.


Lyle Zapato

Octopus-Horde Attack: The Perle, 1906

Lyle Zapato | 2014-07-23.7900 LMT | Piratical Yarrings | Anarchy | Retro

A SINGULAR BLOW OF THE NET. — Boat attacked by octopus

The attack of the fishing boat Perle by an octopus horde in 1906, from Le Petit Journal's illustrated supplement (click for full image). The article it illustrated: