The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus

Tree Octopus Sightings

Tree octopus species, including the endangered Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, are some of the most elusive creatures known to Man. Not many researchers have managed to photograph them in the wild and those few in captivity tend to hide in inaccessable corners of their cages, as if purposefully avoiding the prying of humans.

Any Tree Octopus sighting should be sent to lyle@zapatopi.net. If it adds significantly to Tree Octopus research it may end up on this page.

Ellie managed to catch a climbing tree octopus on video:

2012-05-16

May 11th my friends and I hiked up Mt Baker. Snow caused us to start two miles from the trail head which retrospectively was a stroke of luck! Almost, back at the car on the 12th I suddenly see something strange scurrying around the base of a tree.

I couldn't believe my luck when it ended up being the elusive Pacific North West tree octopus!

Managed to get a little footage before it secreted itself away in a hole in the tree!

2011-01-06: A rare sighting of tree octopus predation by hawk:


Click to enlarge. Photos by Galen Leeds. Found at Pharyngula.

John digs deep to help the cause:

2010-12-16

Hello!
A few days ago I stumbled across some information about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus on the web, so I decided to look for a specimen in my area. I was happy to discover a tree octopus living comfortably in a tree near my house. I excitedly took out a dollar bill for its nest, and left it at the base of the tree trunk. I dashed inside to get my camera, and took this picture just before the magnificent little creature crawled into its nest. I've seen this tree octopus and maybe a couple others a few times since. I really hope this photo adds to your research.
Sincerely,
John C. Lawson

A report of tragedy among the already endangered tree octopus population:

2010-03-24: "Tree Octopi tragedy"

While enjoying a break from shooting one of my films, I was vacationing on the west coast, visiting a friend. Inbetween our extensive debates on international politics and the environment, we happen to stroll the grounds of his estate. His home is set adjacent to the beautifully scenic Olympic National Park. The air was tinged with smoke from the nearby Constantine fire, which was happening at the time. It wasn't long before I noticed something strange at my feet, an entire pod of 30 to 40 Pacific Northwest tree octopi were littering his lawn. The poor creatures had obviously been driven from the moisture of their forest homes and were desperately migrating toward the safety of the nearby Hood Canal. Tearfully, we collected several of the dehydrated animals and tried to nurture them back to health, but to no avail. I have attached [photos] of one of the Octopi for you to use to raise awareness to the continued plight of the species.

With love & support to the Pacific Northwest tree octopus
Babette Bombshell

With their numbers still dwindling, this is the sort of setback that the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus can ill afford.

Contrary to popular beliefs, not all tree octopuses hibernate during winter. Here are two sightings of snow-loving octopuses from New England. The first is from Danno:

2009-03-11: "Snow Octopus"

The other day after a snow storm. I was getting ready to shovel the snow. When I notice some movement. When I realized what it was I grabbed my camera. I was only able to get one photo be for the Snow Octopus (Snow Puss) disappeared under the snow. Living in New England I didn't think they came this far south or east.


Photo detail enhanced using third-party cephalopod-image processing technology.

Their ability to blend into the environment is amazing. One would almost think it was made of snow. But one would be wrong.

This sighting comes from Emmy:

2009-01-19: "we found a tree octopus!!!!!!!"

These photographs show that tree octopi are not restricted to temperate climates. The last picture also is possibly the only known photo of a tree octopus nest. This is a proposed new species, or the New England Ground-Nesting Tree Octopus, or just simply New England Tree Octopus.

Emmy's photos of this previously unclassified tree octopus species were too blurry for even our most advanced cephalopod-image processing technology to enhance. In order to keep warm in the cold winter air, this species must be constantly on the move through the tree tops, making photographing it clearly next to impossible. Its blue coloration might mean it's related to T. pilosa, or perhaps that's just its way of saying how very cold it feels. Whatever the case, the ground nest shows that, even in these uncertain economic times, people are willing to open their wallets to help give tree octopuses comfy homes.

2009-02-16: The Save the Tree Octopus! YouTube channel has found actual footage of a Octopus paxarbolis in the wild:

James from Seattle/Olympia writes in with a discovery he made in his Christmas tree:

2008-12-25: "Pacific NW Xmas tree Octopus"

Just letting you know, we spotted this adventurous tree octopi feeling particularly festive.

Sometimes tree octopuses hitch a ride in Christmas trees harvested from farms on the Olympic Peninsula. When its tree is being jostled violently, a tree octopus will hunker down deep inside the branches near the trunk and camouflage itself to look like bark. This is a defensive mechanism to protect it from wind storms and sasquatch trying to shake octopuses to the ground. They may stay hidden like this for days after a particularly violent shaking, such as experienced by Christmas trees when they are chopped down and transported.

Many octopuses have a natural instinct to decorate their lairs with attractive baubles, and O. paxarbolis is no exception. When it finally comes out of hiding and explores its tree, finding it covered in shiny ornaments and sparkly lights, it will become so mesmerized by the baublely abundance that it'll hardly notice that its tree is sitting in some human's living room.

Scandinavian immigrants considered it good luck to find a tree octopus in their Christmas tree. Granted, that's because they like to eat them. But for us more enlightened cephalopodophiles, we can consider it a sign of good luck that the species hasn't yet gone extinct.

And to keep it that way, please remember to remove any octopuses you find before disposing of your Christmas tree. They can be put in a shoe box -- with a bit of moist branch to make them feel comfortable and some tinsel to keep them distracted -- and taken to your nearest chapter of the Friends of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus for reintroduction into the wild.

Jonathan wrote in with an invasive tree octopus species he discovered in his garden...

2007-08-24: "Invasive exotic tree octopus species a threat to our native Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus?"

Dear Sir,

I am writing to bring to your attention yet another threat to our endangered native Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus (Octopus paxarbolis). I photographed these specimens on a potted bamboo and Japanese maple on my deck, north of Seattle.

At this time, I am uncertain whether this invader is the Chinese Bamboo Octopus (Sinoctopus bambusa) that came in on the bamboo and spread to the nearby Japanese maple, or a related Japanese species (Aceroctopus japonicum) that spread from the maple to the bamboo. Given the similarity between the coloring of the octopuses and the maple leaf stems, I suspect the latter.

The Asiatic invasive octopus is much smaller than O. paxarbolis, with mature specimens measuring just 5-6 inches across, from tentacle tip to tentacle tip. However, what they lack in size, they make up for in numbers. The maple and bamboo plants were just crawling with them! Lax inspection standards for horticultural imports are certainly to blame.

I worry about the effect on the native species should the exotic species manage to spread beyond garden plants to the greater fir forests of the area.

Sincerely,
Jonathan Griffin-MacGregor

It is indeed a Japanese maple octopus. You can tell from the spring-like cinching at the base of the arms, which has become characteristic for A. japonicum. Shinto priests in Japan have been artificially selecting this species for centuries, culling from the maple trees only those with a pleasing continuity between their body and arms for use in their ceremonies/luncheons. This has left the wild population with limbs oddly mismatched to their bodies -- as well as a bold, some would say defiant, attitude toward humans, since the unculled ones have come to view the priest's avoidance as a sign of fear.

You are right to be worried about this invasive species. I would suggest you burn your garden to the ground. It's the only way to make sure that the invasion doesn't spread to native Tree Octopus habitats.

Marc L. sent in a photo of a rare tree octopus that specializes in redcedar:

2006-12-16


Photo detail enhanced using advanced ZPi cephalopod-image processing technology.

Here is a rare and endangered Cephalopod Thuja Pilcata or locally known as the Western Red Cedar Climbing Octopus. You don't see one of these babies everyday!! Especially this far inland!!

Emacs!

Marc has his names a bit confused, which is understandable given the esoteric nature of tree octopus cladistics. Thuja plicata is actually the scientific name for the Western Redcedar tree that this octopus calls home. The correct binomial for the octopus itself is Thujoctopus pilosa, named for the lush coating of bluish velvet that it evolved to help retain moisture as it migrated deep inland from its ancestral Pacific home. Unfortunately, this notable trait led to its current rarity.

Originally considered a cheaper domestic alternative to fine velvets imported from Italy or Kashmir, redcedar octopus pelts became popular in the early to mid 20th century with a growing North American middle-class desperate for luxury goods. In particular, evening dresses made entirely of undyed T. pilosa pelts became such a fixture during the post-war period that they were immortalized in the song "Blue Velvet" -- made a hit in 1951 by Tony Bennett and again in the 1960s by Bobby Vinton.

(The song also featured prominently in the 1986 film "Blue Velvet" by director and animal lover David Lynch, who considered it emblematic of the moral degeneracy of suburban middle-class life. Lynch spent much of his childhood in the woods of eastern Washington and was well aware of the devastation brought against the local tree octopus populations by the twisted, fetishistic desires of the suburbs.)

Eventually, shrinking numbers of redcedar octopus combined with inexpensive mass-produced synthetic velvets available on the burgeoning global market led to the pelt trade becoming unprofitable -- narrowly saving T. pilosa from extinction.

[2007-01-01] Marc had a follow up letter:

2006-12-31

Your write up was very impressive but you failed to mention the decline in habitat here in Southern Oregon due to logging. Fortunately, now that the species is protected, you often hear in the woods " Don't cut that one, they's one of them dang blue pusses up there!!"

A far greater threat to the species exists from pets. I have personally witnessed a Labrador Retriever violently shaking a Cedar Pus, the cries of which are unimaginable, perhaps best described as unworldly or maybe Chinese.

On a lighter note I'm sure you will be happy to hear our sighting turned out to be a breeding colony, as evidenced by the attached photo.

Another sighting of an Australian species of tree octopus, this one associating with an arboreal marsupial...

2005-04-28: "Tree-ringed octopus sighted with koalas"


Photo detail enhanced using third-party cephalopod-image processing technology.

At last! Someone who can testify to the reality of such rare and beautious beasts.

It was a fine Spring day. We hapless residents of Daisy Hill were out photographing the last remaining large koala habitat in SE Queensland, with developers poised at our doorstep (www.savedaisyhill.com), snapping away at the innocent koalas sleeping peacefully in the treetops, when lo! The great and very endangered Tree-ringed octopus appeared swinging amongst the branches. Very unusual for such a shy animal.

Developers are still poised at our doorstep. We know our plight to save the Tree-ringed octopus is futile, but this, at least, is testimony to the world that they once inhabited this great land.

Hapalochlaena eucalyptlata, which is known to grow up to 30cm (12 in) across bears bright blue rings when angered, and can inflict a lethal bite, much like it's marine cousin, the lesser Hapalochlaena lunulata.

Since both species carry enough poison to kill 26 adults within minutes, we're hoping there'll be enough to go around for the developers and their bulldozer wielding lackeys.

Sonny Whitelaw

Report of tree octopus seen east of Seattle, possibly feeding on bugs. Unlikely to be O. paxarbolis, as they could never survive crossing the I5 corridor...

2004-10-29: "Tree Octopus Sighting East of Seattle!"


Photo detail enhanced using third-party cephalopod-image processing technology.

A friend an I were looking for interesting bugs in a dense forest east of Seattle. My friend John is the man hanging from a rope in the middle of the photo. I was taking a picture of him hanging from the ropes with my digital camera when I noticed in the picture preview there was something on the base of one of the trees. I Looked at the tree and saw what appeared to be an octopus. It was rather dark because the sun was on the other side of the tree, so I took a photo of it with my heat sensing camera to make sure that it was a living creature. I then went searching on the internet for a tree-climbing octopus site and I found this one. Here is the photo I was talking about, I hope it helps your studies.

Sincerely,
Peter Rootes

Below is a first hand account of the cephalopodic carnage that results when tree octopuses cross the road...

2004-02-11

I am well acquainted with the tree octopus from the time I lived in Tacoma. For a time I dated a girl who lived in Port Angeles on the north end of the Olympic peninsula. Because it was a about a three hour I'd drive up to visit her on the weekends. The route I'd drive to and from visiting her crossed the Hood canal and then followed its western shore for some distance. It's a beautiful, unspoiled area of virgin forest at the foot of the majestic Olympic mountains in the west, and the beautiful waters of the Hood canal and Puget sound to the east. Many times while driving back home late I would see tree octopi (or "tree squawbs" as the locals call them) as they crossed the road heading for the canal, obviously on their way back to spawn... (Read more on the Louisville Scuba Divers website.)

This is why you should always bring an umbrella with you in the Hoh Rainforest...

2003-06-04: "Possible Tree Octopus Sighting!"

photo of Tree Octopus in the Hoh Rainforest
Photo detail enhanced using advanced ZPi cephalopod-image processing technology.

I was hiking with my Aunt Gene last August in the Hoh rain forest when I shot this slide. It wasn't until a few months later, when I was giving a slide presentation, that I noticed the mass in the upper left [sic] corner. I thought it appeared a little strange, but it wasn't until I stumbled across your site that I realized that I had found an elusive tree octopus! I feel so lucky to have accidentally gotten a photo of this amazing creature!

-- Justin

The following photo appears to be of some species of Deciduous Tree Octopus, most likely O. saccharum or the Sugar Octopus. They occur most often in coastal New England, where they use their beaks to break the bark of maple trees and slurp the sap. These tree octopuses die off annually with the changing of the leaves, dropping to the ground where they are then gathered by the local Hominoids as sweet Fall snacks. Although not closely related to O. paxarbolis, they do share a common plight as environmental disruption and poaching for the lucrative Japanese dessert sushi market has brought Sugar Octopus populations to dangerously low levels.

2002-12-21: "Tree Octopus Sighting!!!!"

Enhanced photo of Deciduous Tree Octopus
Photo detail enhanced using advanced ZPi cephalopod-image processing technology.

I was recently taking pictures of the beautiful scenery while on vacation, when I noticed something odd crawling through the trees. To my disbelief, I discovered that it was a tree octopus! It moved extremely quickly, but I managed to get a good picture of it, and I think you'll agree that it's a pretty high-quality photo. I hope you add this picture to your site so that people can see the beauty of the tree octopus.

Sincerely,
Jonathan

2002-08-27: "I have seen a tree octopus!"

Dear sir,

I am a canopy researcher currently based in Tasmania, Australia. I came your web site and was very excited, for cephalopods are another dear interest of mine. I would like to share a photograph with you. I spent last June studying in the coniferous forests of Mt. St. Helens and Rainier for an international canopy network project mapping trees. ICAN is based out of the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. We would climb the trees each day and measure branching structure.

Enhanced photo of possible Cascadian Tree Octopus
Photo detail enhanced using advanced ZPi cephalopod-image processing technology.

I saw it from above, on rope at perhaps 30 meters. It was maybe 12 meters below me. This was in early August 2001. I will scan my files for other pictures and see if I can locate another one of these elusive camouflaged creatures. I also invite you to visit my University of Tasmania web page at www.geog.utas.edu.au/yoav and browse.

I invite you to post this photograph on your web page. It would be an honour to be included on such a site about such an amazing and little known creature. The photograph is also at the bottom of the linkage page on my web site. Is this the first confirmed sighting of one of these creatures outside of the Olympics? If you suspect that it is a seperate subspecies, I propose it be named Octopus paxarbolis var. cascadii. Slightly better than naming it after myself, I think.

[...] If you have any suggestions on how to integrate a Tree Octopus research program into my study, please let me know. My project proposal is available on the web site. I suspect that there is an analogous creature in the eucalyptus rainforests of SE Australia. I will find them if I can!

Also, I still haven't seen the giant squid at the museum that washed ashore a few miles from here. But I will....

Cheers!

Yoav Daniel Bar-Ness

UPDATE 2007-05-13: Bar-Ness has started a new website called TreeOctopus.net, which contains further tree octopus research, as well as information on his forest research, writings, and photos.