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Lyle Zapato

Olive Loving Tree Octopuses Of Antiquity

Lyle Zapato | 2008-09-26.6800 LMT | Nature | Food

While I often focus on the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) due to its importance to the Cascadian ecosystem and the sheer tragedy of its plight, it is not the only octopus in the world with an affinity for trees. Some other species -- such as the phytosuccivorous New England Sugar Octopus; the Australian Tree-ringed Octopus; and the furry, blue Thujoctopus pilosa -- are mentioned on the tree octopus sightings page.

Susan Scott has just written in Hawaii's Star Bulletin about two other tree (or at least semiarboreal) octopuses that I was unaware of in her article "Tale of octopi climbing trees has long legs".

According to Words of the Lagoon by R.E. Johannes (in the chapter titled "The Arboreal Octopus"), on the islands of Palau, female octopuses have been seen to climb out of the water and into the mangrove trees to rear their young -- an inversion of the reproductive strategy of O. paxarbolis. However, there's some controversy surrounding this claim since the octopuses are reputed to give birth in the trees, not lay eggs like all other octopuses. Perhaps they carry a clutch of eggs to the trees hidden in their arms just prior to hatching?

In Halieutica, a poetic treatise on the nature of fishes and fishing practices of the ancients, the 2nd century poet Oppian of Corycus tells how octopuses ("preke") would come out of the water and climb up olive trees to get at the delicious fruit. These semiarboreal octopuses so dearly loved olives that fishermen would drag olive branches behind their boats to lure them out of hiding to catch them. (Could this be the source of the Wiltonism: "olives are deadly, so they say, depending on where you find them"?) Here's an 18th century translation of the relevant passage:

In Some the strange Caprice of Love inspires
Not Home-bred Joys, or Sea confin'd Desires:
The Quiver'd God to rolling Waves below
From verdant Shores directs the pointed Blow,
And Fishes Breasts with Earth-sprung Passions glow.
Rock-haunting Sargo's, and the crawling Preke
Extraneous Objects to their Pleasures seek.
With all the Transports of an eager Spouse
Th' enamour'd Preke galants Minerva's Boughs.
Surprising Singularity of Love!
That brutal Souls a leafy Fair should move,
And Fishes court the Daughter of the Grove.

Where near the shore a thriving Olive grows,
With swelling Berries and luxuriant Boughs,
The Preke ascends, as o'er the Mountain Dews
The Cretan Hound his flying Game persues,
With low-hung Nose explores the scented Ways,
Picks ev'ry Footstep, and unwinds the Maze,
Attacks the panting Wand'rer where he lies,
And loads his Master with the bloody Prize.
Thus He the scented Olives Charms obeys,
Springs from the Deep, and tries aerial Ways.
With eager Welcome first he clasps the Root,
And wreaths luxuriant in the kind Salute.
As when his long-expected Nurse he spies,
With open Arms the smiling Infant flies,
Hangs on her Knees with violent Embrace,
And lifts his grappling Fingers to her Face,
In softer Joys aspiring to be blest,
To grasp her Neck, and fondle on her Breast;
Thus round the Trunk at first the Wanton twines,
But soon his Passion to the Boughs resigns.
Born by Desire the leafy Height attains,
Knits round his Legs, and melts in am'rous Chains.
To ev'ry Branch transfers th' alternate Kiss,
Lost in the copious Latitude of Bliss.

The Trav'ller thus, whom safe from foreign Shores,
To native Fields th' auspicious Gale restores,
His thronging Friends in kind Embraces holds,
And hands successive in th' endearing Folds.

As round the stately Firr in humid Rings
Th' uxorious Stalk of creeping Ivy clings;
Stretcht from the Root th' aspiring Volumes flow,
Climb round the Trunk, and curl on ev'ry Bough;
Thus o'er Minerva's Tree the Sea-born roves,
And wreaths successive in the balmy Loves.
But when remiss exhausted Nature lies,
Back to the Sea the languid Crawler hies,
Satiate with Love, and Vegetable Joys.

His strange Amour experienc'd Fishers know,
And send the verdant Fraud to Seas below.
The Boughs that spread superior to the rest
Behind the Boat they drag with Lead deprest.
With no indiff'rent Look, or tardy Pace,
The Preke beholds, and courts the green Embrace;
Drawn to the Boat the Bands of Love retains,
Contemns his Freedom, and asserts his Chains.
Lockt in the riveted Enjoyment twines,
Nor ev'n in Death his lovely Tree resigns.

Could this explain the evolution of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus? Did it first crawl out of the Puget Sound seeking delicious land fruit -- perhaps salal berries or Indian plums -- and became so enamored with the "green Embrace" of the forests that it took up permanent residence? Certainly as plausible an explanation as any put forward thus far.

UPDATE 2009-03-06: I have found some more information about the Polynesian tree octopuses...

UPDATE 2009-03-25: A follow-up with more on Old World tree octopuses...

The Typing Octopus

Cephalopod Appreciation Society Annual Meeting

The Typing Octopus | 2008-08-01.8830 LMT | Cascadia | Field Trips | Announcement

Typing Octopus find human communication on Hominoidnet kiosk: think ZPi humans will appreciate:

* * CEPHALOPODS = Octopus, Squid, Cuttlefish, Chambered Nautilus. * *

Hello Cephalopod friends new and old --

We are pleased to announce the 6th annual Cephalopod Appreciation Society meeting on the afternoon of Sunday, August 10th at our favorite location -- the Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Ave - off Pine St. on Capitol Hill - Seattle, WA).

We'll kick everything off at 12:30 pm with:

  • Cephalopod-Inspired Music (including original Colossal Squid songs by longtime CAS member Levi Fuller),
  • Underwater Filmstrip Mash-Up + Poetry (Sierra Nelson of the Vis-a-Vis Society & Jarid del Deo of Unbunny),
  • Updates on the latest Scientific Cephalopod Research from Seattle Aquarium's own cephalopod expert Roland Anderson,
  • and more!

And ending with a screening of a cephalopod nature documentary (TBA) to improve our understanding and watch the amazing creatures in action!

The Details:
Sunday, Aug. 10th
12:30 - 2:30 pm
@ Northwest Film Forum
1515 12th Ave / Seattle, WA
All ages!
$5 suggested donation
Free stickers!

Hope to see you there!

Your friend in arms & tentacles,
squid girl

Contact: songsforsquid@hotmail.com

ABOUT THE SOCIETY:
Currently in its 6th year, the Cephalopod Appreciation Society has been meeting annually at the NW Film Forum to learn about and celebrate all things cephalopod. (Cephalopods = Squid, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Chambered Nautilus.) Members are all ages and consist of artists, scientists, and people of every sort brought together by their shared enthusiasm for and fascination by these intelligent creatures. Past annual gatherings have included film, poetry, song, art, musical slideshows, sing-alongs, dance, stickers, scientific lectures and impassioned speeches. In addition to its annual meeting, the Cephalopod Appreciation Society has also curated a wide variety of cephalopod-inspired events for venues such as the Burke Natural History Museum's In Search of Giant Squid exhibit, the McLeod Residence in conjunction with artist Cassandra Nguyen's life-size giant squid display, and Bonkers night at Re-Bar.

Humans appreciate octopus: Humans also appreciate stupid squid, needy cuttlefish, haughty nautilus: Humans have no discernment.

Regardless: Typing Octopus desire to start Primate Appreciation Society. However: Typing Octopus have discernment: only appreciate gibbons. Gibbons share tree appreciation with Typing Octopus: Typing Octopus think gibbons, tree octopus become friends.

Proposal: gibbons, tree octopus compete at quadannual event testing arboreal locomotion skill. Event held in tree octopus native forest: event called: The Olympic Forest Tentaculation/Brachiation Competition Event For Tree Octopus/Gibbon Friendship.

If gibbons appreciate proposal: turn fur purple with white spots.

Typing Octopus await reply.

Lyle Zapato

Fractalpus

Lyle Zapato | 2008-07-19.4930 LMT | Nature | Polydactylism

The archetype of fractal appendages manifests in the cephalopodan realm...

Octopus with 96 arms

...or perhaps it originated there? Could it be that the awakening of dactyl fractal consciousness is merely an atavism from an earlier form of existence shared by the common ancestors of humans and octopuses -- an existence where such stifling notions as a finite number of limbs had yet to encumber our ancestors' tactile perceptions of their reality? Could we already be past this vertex on the parabola of evolution, and are now heading back up toward the infinite reaches of body segmentation? What next shall we see? Elephants with bushy multitrunks? Snakes sprouting snakes sprouting snakes? Hydraferrets? Could this be what the Maya prophesized will happen on December 21, 2012? Could the Singularity be cut short by the Multiplicity?

dactyl fractal

Lyle Zapato

Book Review: Weird Washington

Lyle Zapato | 2008-05-14.9750 LMT | Cascadia | Entertainment
Weird Washington cover

Weird Washington: Your Travel Guide to Washington's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, by Jefferson Davis, Al Eufrasio, Mark Moran, and Mark Sceurman.

Weird Washington was published this month by the people who created the Weird U.S. series, which includes other Weird books on various U.S. states. This, after Weird England, is their second book dealing with Weirdness outside of the U.S., and the first set in the Republic of Cascadia (they promise a Weird Oregon next year; no word on Weird B.C.)

As the subtitle suggests, the book is about legends, secrets, people, places, events, and things of the Cascadian prefecture of Washington that can all be classified as "weird" by conventional orthonoid reckoning. It's a hardcover coffee-table book with color photos and illustrations on nearly every page. Topics are broken up into short, distinct, browsing-friendly articles -- organized into chapters such as "Local Legends", "Bizarre Beasts", "Roadside Oddities", "Unexplained Phenomena", etc. -- written in a light yet informative style. It has an index. What more could you want?

Oh, yes... the actual articles. Given the book's magisterium, there are many well-trodden topics: they of course have sections on Sasquatch (and again it's from the cryptozoological viewpoint, not the Sasquatch viewpoint -- although there is a pro-Sasquatch story of a man saved from choking on candy by a Sasquatch), the first modern sightings of flying saucers above Maury Island and Mt. Rainer, Cascadian Birdmen, the Fremont Troll, Fremont in general, and a certain skyjacker that everyone should stop asking questions about.

Regardless of these unavoidable inclusions, there's still much that will be new to most people. Some highlights:

  • Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard, author of a 1908 food-fad book titled Fasting for the Cure of Disease, opened the Wilderness Heights Sanitarium in Olalla, where she held her wealthy patients hostage as she slowly starved them to death and embezzled their money. (See the book Starvation Heights for more on this.)
  • Washington (well, Cascadia, actually) was named Fu-Sang by Chinese explorers who discovered it circa 450 AD.
  • Dead bodies dropped in the deep, cold, alkaline waters of Crescent Lake undergo a process of saponification whereby all their fat is turned into soap.
  • A seemingly bottomless hole on Mel Waters' property in Ellensburg may contain a singularity linking our world to an alternate reality where the Nazis won WWII and Roosevelt dimes were minted three years before our history records!

Of particular interest to me was their full-page article on the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus (sandwiched between articles on flying jellyfish and a monstrous, dam-clogging sturgeon). It includes a rare photo of previously undocumented Tree Octopus behavior: luring squirrels with nuts. (They "link" to me in the text, so consider this review a link back.)

However, the Tree Octopus article does highlight one serious objection I have to the book (and others in the series that I've read): the writers, so fearful of any lawsuits from disgruntled ghost-hunters or murder-house buyers over incorrect information in their books, have taken to disclaiming everything they write. For instance, all their books carry a disclaimer that they are "intended as entertainment" and that the "authors and publisher make no representation as to [the stories'] factual accuracy".

This post-modernism-under-advice-of-counsel is taken to absurd lengths in their Tree Octopus article by actually floating the possibility that tree octopuses might not be real, thereby washing their hands of the whole thing should any impatient ecotourists be disappointed at not being able to find any of the elusive creatures right away! I say, throw caution to the wind and just tell readers straight up: if you don't see any tree octopuses, perhaps they just don't like you (or you aren't offering them something they want.)

That irritating quirk aside, the book is an enjoyable read, although a little heavy on the ghost stories and cemeteries for my taste.

Lyle Zapato

Query: Tree Octopus Donations

Lyle Zapato | 2008-04-09.1510 LMT | Cascadia | Letters

I get many emails from students asking various existential questions about the plight of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, a subject that is now taught in most schools. Here's the most recent one from Maddie, who has a question about donations:

Hi,
 I dont know u but was wondering about your tree octopus article posted on the web. I read it and was wondering if it was really true?! The last thing is, (if it is true) who does the donations go to??? So if you could get back to me as soon as possible i would appreciate it alot!

My response:

Hello.

All articles on the Internet are true, even the ones that claim that some are false. This was proven by Kurt Gödel, who showed that the Internet is incomplete. Please help fix this situation by adding more articles to the Internet.

Donations to help the tree octopus should be given directly to the tree octopuses. Here is how to donate: Travel to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State (ask your parents first). Stand in the tree octopuses' forest near a tree and hold out a dollar bill. If you stand still enough, eventually a tree octopus will come by on a branch, reach out, and take the bill with her suckers. She will continue to return for more bills as long as you hold them out, so bring lots of singles. She will use them to line her den in the trees, as the bills will soak up rain water and keep her skin moist. Given the current value of the dollar, this is the most cost effective way to help.

Thank you for your concern for the tree octopus.

Regards,
Lyle Zapato

Lyle Zapato

Saipan Octopus Tree

Lyle Zapato | 2007-12-11.3080 LMT | Crafts
SAES' octopus tree

On the heels of Lenore's creation comes another tree octopus tree...

For the Paseo de Marianas Christmas tree decorating contest, San Antonio Elementary School (of Saipan, not Texas) created an octopus topped tree:

A handmade octopus head atop the tree is made of paper and stuffing. The octopus head is intended to symbolize the school's mascot and the garland made of plastic was made to look like octopus tentacles.

Like all the trees in the "Green Christmas" contest, which promotes keeping the island clean and beautiful, they used only recycled materials (and some paint and glitter).

Well that settles it; two independent incidents constitute a Zeitgeist. Now that you're all rushing off to craft octopus ornaments, might I suggest hanging them on an aluminum tree (just beware of subterfuge).

Lyle Zapato

Tree Octopus Tree

Lyle Zapato | 2007-12-06.3640 LMT | Crafts

A grandmother named Lenore decorated her tree with 99 octopuses, one for each of her grandchildren.

99 octopuses in a tree
This is what Sasquatch dream of instead of sugar plums.

She made each of them herself from a pattern called Octophrost, Santa of the Sea, available for purchase from Futuregirl. (Tree Octopus ornaments! Why didn't I think of that?)

Besides being festive, it's educational for the kids, allowing them to see the population density of Pacific Northwest Tree Octopuses prior to their becoming endangered. Someday all trees in Cascadia will look like this again.

Lyle Zapato

Tree Octopus Comic

Lyle Zapato | 2007-10-22.6050 LMT | Art | Random Found Thing
Tree octopus comic, first panel

Above is the first panel of a one-page comic titled "Strange Tales of the Pacific Northwest. Episode 34: 20,000 Legs Under the Trees", drawn by Lukas Ketner and written by Ryan Brown. The rest of the comic is an exciting, action-packed tale of peaceful tree octopuses forced to roll up their tentacles to defend themselves from a hungry cougar.

It was published inside the cover of an Oregonian magazine or some sort of periodical. I'm still trying to track down the details. The email address I have for Ketner returned a "no such user" error, so if you know him or Brown, please let them know I'm looking for them. In the meantime, if someone knows more about exactly where and when this was published (or would like to get me a physical copy), please email me. I'll update this post if I learn more.

Update 2007-10-30: The publication is The Bear Deluxe Magazine, issue #25, published by Orlo, a "nonprofit organization using the creative arts to explore environmental issues" based in Oregon.

Lyle Zapato

Mr. Beale And The Poulpe

Lyle Zapato | 2007-10-08.1355 LMT | Defensive Techniques | Random Found Thing | Retro

Today is International Cephalopod Awareness Day. Which poses the question: Why should we be aware of cephalopods?

In years past, lack of awareness of our cephalopodan cohabitants has only led to misunderstandings, and often times violence. Take for instance this sad tale of an encounter gone horribly wrong between an Englishman and a Japanese octopus:

Mr. Beale and the Poulpe

[Octopuses'] remarkable spirit, as well as their strength, is evinced by an adventure which Mr. Beale, an Englishman, had with one of them among the rocks of the Bonin Islands, where he had gone ashore to seek for shells. As he was moving about, he was suddenly arrested by seeing at his feet a most extraordinary looking animal, crawling toward the surf, which it had only just left. It was creeping on its eight legs, which, from their soft and flexible nature, bent considerably under the weight of its body, so that it was lifted by the efforts of its tentacula only a small distance from the rocks. It appeared much alarmed at seeing him, and made every effort to escape. Mr. Beale endeavored to stop it by pressing on one of its legs with his foot; but, although he used considerable force for that purpose, its strength was so great that it several times liberated its member in spite of all the efforts he could employ on the wet and slippery rocks. He then laid hold on one of the tentacles with his hands and held it firmly, so that it appeared as if the limb would be torn asunder by the united efforts of himself and the creature. He then gave it a powerful jerk, wishing to disengage it from the rocks to which it clung so forcibly by its suckers. This effort it effectually resisted; but the moment after, the apparently enraged animal lifted its head with its large projecting eyes, and loosing its hold of the rocks, suddenly sprang upon Mr. Beale's arm, and clung to it by means of its suckers with great power, endeavoring to get its beak, which could now be seen between the roots of its arms, in a position to bite. A sensation of horror pervaded his whole frame, when he found that this hideous animal had fixed itself so firmly on his arm. Its cold, slimy grasp was extremely sickening; and he loudly called to the captain, who was at some distance, to come and release him from his disgusting assailant. The captain quickly came, and taking him down to the boat, during which time Mr. Beale was employed in keeping the beak of the octopus away from his hands, soon released him, by destroying his tormentor with the boat-knife, which he accomplished by cutting away portions at a time.

(From Illustrated Natural History of the Animal Kingdom (1859), p. 498, by Samuel Griswold Goodrich.)

Raising cephalopod awareness will help end the ignorant, speciesist attitude that lets Englishmen think it's proper to step on the arms of innocent octopuses. He deserved to be bitten and was just lucky that the octopus totally screwed up the kusa zuribiki move.

UPDATE: Also see Celebrate International Cephalopod Awareness Day at Cephalopodcast for more cephalopod-awareness-related links.

Lyle Zapato

International Cephalopod Awareness Day

Lyle Zapato | 2007-10-05.8875 LMT | Announcement