Happy New Year again! Here's a giant octopus trying to crush an electric elephant:
It's from The Wonderful Electric Elephant (1903) by Frances T. Montgomery, a children's book about a young man named Harold who encounters and shoots an elephant on a trail at the Grand Canyon, only to discover it's actually an electric-powered mecha-elephant piloted by a mysterious old man who soon dies after spilling his immortality elixir. Harold finds the man's will inside, which states that he now owns the elephant, as well as the gold and other curios and treasures the man had collected. Reading the instruction manual, he learns the elephant is watertight, so decides to cross the Pacific seafloor to Japan. On the way, he frees silky-locked Ione from Native Americans and she becomes his companion, and eventually wife, as they travel the world having adventures and frightening people, as one does when one comes into possession of a wonderful electric elephant.
Life in the Southern Isles; or, Scenes and Incidents in the South Pacific and New Guinea (1876) by Rev. William Wyatt Gill, published by the Religious Tract Society of London.
Since this is one of the earliest reports of tree octopuses of which I can reasonably own an original -- I don't think I could afford an original scroll by Athenaeus of Naucratis if one even existed -- and Gill was the first to bring Polynesian tree octopuses to the unfortunately disinterested attention of the scientific establishment, I acquired a copy for my collection.
I thought I'd share the cover since it's fairly attractive (although sadly devoid of tree octopuses). Click the image above for a larger composit scan of the front, back, and spine. You can also read the scanned text on Google Books.
I've mentioned the use of taxidermied tree octopuses as hat decorations and octopus-inspired hair-styles, now here's another example of octopuses as objects of fashion. From the April 23, 1915 edition of the Tacoma Times:
Beach Belle Uses Octopus As Wristlet In Weird Sand Dance
Los Angeles, April 23. — Probably the strangest pet ever adopted by the shrinking sex is the little octopus carried by Miss Diana Rico, a belle of the beaches here. Whenever she goes bathing or strolling along the sands Miss Rico carries the tentacled mascot wrapped about her wrist.
This weird creature of the deep gave Miss Rico an inspiration for a new tango step, "The Dance of the Octopus," which created a sensation when she first stepped its sinuous figures on the beach.
When not clinging to the arm of its mistress, the baby octopus creeps about a little tank built especially for it.
While we're there, let's see what else was on the front page of the Tacoma Times that day...
There seems to be a recurring theme in Japan of primates driving would-be tree-octopuses back into the sea. I've already covered tree-dwelling hominoids called Kijimunaa that guard the mangroves of Okinawa from the constant threat of octopus invasion, and monkey military retaliations against forest-melon-raiding octopuses, but here's an example on a much larger scale...
Well, sort of... some Minecraft modders just posted a plugin for the third-party Bukkit server modding system that allows players to summon a tree octopus by placing a gold block on top of a tree.
The tree octopus is actually a stock Minecraft squid, but the game's squid only have eight appendages, so they can't really be squid and must therefore be octopuses (then again, they also have teeth, so perhaps we can't rely on anatomical accuracy.)
The mechanism to summon them was inspired by my advice to a young reader asking about tree octopus donations. However, the modders (or at least one of them, Camcade) seem to be confused about what I wrote and think it's a scam:
The website instructed people to help save the tree octopus by putting money up in the trees so that the tree octopuses could make nests out of the bills. Of course, this was a scam just to get people to put money in trees for other people to take.
We here at ZPi have always advised handing bills directly to tree octopuses, not just leaving them in trees where unscrupulous passersby may deprive needy cephalopods of nesting material. If some shady website is advising you to just throw money into the woods, please report it to your local chapter of the Sasquatch Militia.
It has been theorized that species of tree octopuses around the world originally took to the land, and eventually the trees, in search of tasty vegetation, such as ara flowers, tree pitch, and olives. The Japanese have a similar theory: octopuses came into the forests in search of monkey melons. Unfortunately for these would-be tree-octopuses, the monkeys fought back.
Dougal Dixon's book The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution (1988) imagines what life would look like if the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event had not happened and non-avian dinosaurs had continued evolving over the last 65 million years.
Besides the eponymous new dinosaurs, one of his hypothetical creatures inhabiting the Australasian Realm is the coconut grab (Nuctoceras litureperus), a type of tree-climbing ammonite:
The coconut grab is an unusual ammonite in that it can spend much of its time out of the water crawling about on land. On many of the tropical islands of the ocean it can crawl up the beach and eat coconuts, and even climb trees to find the nuts when there are none available lying in the sand or washed up on the shore.
It's preyed upon by a flightless, tree-climbing pterosaur called a shorerunner.
The Lost Cavern and Other Stories of the Fantastic (Vanguard Press, 1948) by H.F. Heard (a.k.a. Gerald Heard) is a collection of four short stories: "The Lost Cavern", "The Cup", "The Thaw Plan", and "The Chapel of Ease". (Synopses with spoilers follow...)
My initial interest was in "The Thaw Plan" because it briefly mentions a tree octopus, but the story's setting and nascent-Cold-War perspective are interesting in their own right: induced global warming is used by both super powers as a strategic weapon, resulting in a future Earth where humanity has split into two separate species living at either pole, separated from any interaction by an impenetrable, primeval, equatorial jungle -- home to tree octopuses, naturally.
The first part of the story sets the world-building in motion. The year is 1975, 30 years into W.W.2.A. (World War Second Armistice). The world is divided into two super powers, the US and the USSR. The seat of power in the Soviet Union has moved East, to the city of Karakorum. The Chinese have taken control, turning Moscow into a Holy City and elevating the Russian people to the highest (and most powerless) level of "Ritual Rank".
Many in the West see this as a good thing since "a Chinaman never likes war". But the new leader of the USSR, Supreme Commissar Yang, has a devious plot to diminish -- figuratively and literally -- the West (including the Russians): they will use atomic power to melt the tundra, causing sea levels to rise 100 feet, flooding most of the world but leaving the tablelands of Tibet and China uninundated, from which the USSR will rule as the lone superpower.
Cascadia's beloved musician, businessman, and punny raconteur, Ivar Haglund, was well-known, both locally and internationally, for his publicity stunts promoting his aquarium and seafood restaurant. Here's a stunt I had not heard of before:
In 1947, Ivar organized an expedition to scale the newly discovered Mount Miller -- starting from the top! Mount Miller, you see, is underwater, part of the Gulf of Alaska Seamount Province. His expedition team consisted of one brave octopus, Oscar III, who was to be dropped from a boat over the seamount, attached to a two-mile line. Oscar's mission: bring back deep-sea edelweiss to prove he had scaled to the base.
From an April 4th United Press story (reprinted in The Portsmouth Times, p. 6):
OSCAR OCTOPUS TO TRY 'MOUNT'
Underwater 'Mountain' Subject Of Novel Trip
SEATTLE, April 4—A mountain-climbing octopus, Oscar III, and his trainer, Ivar Haglund, were en route today to "climb" the mountain-infested waters of the Alaskan gulf.
The 11,350-foot underwater "Mt." Miller was their destination.
Discovery of giant submarine peaks 900 miles northwest of Seattle by the U. S. coast and geodetic survey, is responsible for Mr. Haglund's latest stunt.
"Man still has not invented a diving suit to withstand the terrific pressures involved," said Mr. Haglund. So the actual climbing will be done by a "scientifically trained octopus".
According to the balding aquarium-owner, Oscar's greatest hazard in scaling Mt. Miller is that he must start from the top and "climb" down.
The incentive for Oscar—and proof that he reaches the base of Mt. Miller—will be his favorite dish, sea-edelweiss, which grows at great depths.
When the expedition glides over the peak of Mt. Miller Oscar will be dropped overboard leashed to a two-mile wire.
If he comes back with a sprig of sea-edelweiss clutched in any one of his arms—it's likely even Mr. Haglund will eat it.
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