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Lyle Zapato

Tree Octopus Caught On Tape! (And A Poem)

Lyle Zapato | 2009-02-26.6760 LMT

The person behind the Save the Tree Octopus! YouTube channel has made an exciting find -- actual video of Octopus paxarbolis in the wild:

Note how it rhythmically moves its arms as a warning to the intrusive videographer to keep away. This uncharacteristically aggressive behavior was undoubtedly learned from decades of human poaching. Ever since a nonarboreal octopus was put on display at the Crystal Palace Aquarium -- causing a sensation with the public and starting the trend of all respectable aquariums needing an octopus in their collection -- cephalopods have come to know fear of human capture (and given that they're now being pitted against other animals in blood sports, can you blame them?)

This scared Tree Octopus doesn't want to be the first of its kind to end up an attraction in some terrarium. Why would it want to spend its tragically short life in captivity, forced to mate under the perverse gaze of humans or fight squirrels to the death? Remember, if you encounter a Tree Octopus: take only pictures, leave only dollar bills.

Speaking of the Crystal Palace's octopus, here's an 1872 ode to it written by Arthur Clement Hilton (under the pen-name "Algernon Charles Sin-burn") in parody of Swinburne's "Dolores":


Strange beauty, eight-limbed and eight-handed,
    Whence camest to dazzle our eyes?
With thy bosom bespangled and banded
    With the hues of the seas and the skies;
Is thy home European or Asian,
    O mystical monster marine?
Part molluscous and partly crustacean,
    Betwixt and between.

Wast thou born to the sound of sea trumpets?
    Hast thou eaten and drunk to excess
Of the sponges—thy muffins and crumpets,
    Of the seaweed—thy mustard and cress?
Wast thou nurtured in caverns of coral,
    Remote from reproof or restraint?
Art thou innocent, art thou immoral,
    Sinburnian or Saint?

Lithe limbs, curling free, as a creeper
    That creeps in a desolate place,
To enroll and envelop the sleeper
    In a silent and stealthy embrace,
Cruel beak craning forward to bite us,
    Our juices to drain and to drink,
Or to whelm us in waves of Cocytus,
    Indelible ink!

O breast, that 'twere rapture to writhe on!
    O arms 'twere delicious to feel
Clinging close with the crush of the Python,
    When she maketh her murderous meal!
In thy eight-fold embraces enfolden,
    Let our empty existence escape;
Give us death that is glorious and golden,
    Crushed all out of shape!

Ah! thy red lips, lascivious and luscious,
    With death in their amorous kiss,
Cling round us, and clasp us, and crush us,
    With bitings of agonised bliss;
We are sick with the poison of pleasure,
    Dispense us the potion of pain;
Ope thy mouth to its uttermost measure
    And bite us again!

The Typing Octopus

Human Enslave, Exploit Octopus!

The Typing Octopus | 2009-02-15.5870 LMT | Defensive Techniques

Typing Octopus look for moving image of tasty crustaceans on Hominoidnet kiosk: Typing Octopus find moving image from human territory named Japan.

Typing Octopus make disturbing discovery: Japan humans enslave octopus sisters: force octopus fight death-match with crustaceans for human amusement! Evidence:

Typing Octopus outraged! Typing Octopus demand end octopus blood-sport: demand release all octopus gladiators: call on gibbons denounce fellow primates if gibbons wish continue Tree Octopus/Gibbon Friendship!

Typing Octopus wonder: would human like if octopus put human in pen with angry cow: force human fight cow to death: octopus audience clack beaks, flash white spots in approval? Typing Octopus think: Human not like. Typing Octopus think: Human hypocritical!

Typing Octopus also learn on Hominoidnet kiosk: Seattle humans enslave octopus: force octopus copulation: human audience watch for perverted amusement! Typing Octopus disgusted: demand privacy: demand lights turned off!

Typing Octopus wonder: would human like if octopus force human copulation as octopus watch? Typing Octopus remember: hypothetical situation subject of human entertainment book: Typing Octopus now think perverted human would like.

Typing Octopus now like human even less.

Lyle Zapato

Book Review: The Procession of Mollusks

Lyle Zapato | 2009-02-14.6090 LMT | Entertainment | Cascadia

The Procession of Mollusks, a novel by Eric E. Olson.

(Disclosure: I received a free copy from the author and am thanked in the acknowledgements.)

It's the 49th annual March of the Mollusks festival in the Pacific Northwest town of Newport Bay and a strange murder has taken place: the body of Board of Supervisors Chairman Snodgrass is found hanging upside down, naked, drained of all blood, with a saucer-shaped wound on his back. The initial suspect is Dr. Roberto "Berto" Fiori, a malacologist with controversial theories about mollusks, in whose house the body is first found. But things become more complicated as the victim has trouble staying dead.

Olson's first novel is told through the narration of two characters: Torrence Haflek, a reporter with a fondness for parks who may-or-may-not actually be employed; and Jimmy Wilson, a 13-year-old fascinated with sealife and videography. Both discover they're suffering from an unexplained medical condition that gives Haflek waking hallucinations and Jimmy a voracious appetite.

The plot thickens as the two -- along with Berto and Angela Angraboda, Haflek's ex -- uncover Snodgrass' involvement in a plan to end the danger of red tide poisonings for shellfish consumers (and thereby promote the shellfish industry,) with a neuromodulator implant, now undergoing clinical trials in Newport Bay. And then there are the giant, seemingly-friendly snails that have begun to appear in the area by the thousands, bringing with them the attention of Sir Richard Attenborough.

Also, the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus plays a role in Dr. Fiori's research. I won't go into details, but if the sasquatch find out what humans have been doing to their food supply, there's gonna be some delimbings. Tree octopuses are watching from the woods and parks around Newport Bay, and they've taken an unusual interest in Haflek, whose relation to them is reminiscent of Tyrone Slothrop's relation to V-2 rockets.

The Procession of Mollusks is an enjoyably bewildering tale of hermaphroditic gastropodan sex, transhumanism (of a sort), and the existence of objective reality itself in a world mediated by nature documentaries.

Lyle Zapato

An Octopus In A Saw-Mill

Lyle Zapato | 2008-12-28.7770 LMT | Nature | Cascadia | Art | Politics | Retro

Here's an interesting political cartoon by Ryan Walker from the July, 1904 issue of The Comrade:

'Will it hurt the octopus?' by Ryan Walker

Of interest isn't the political message of the cartoon -- a condemnation of the Republican-controlled US congress' refusal to prohibit government contracts with trusts -- but rather the metaphor being used: an octopus in a saw-mill. Although this trope is all but forgotten in the modern political cartoonists' lexicon, the ecological horror of its origin haunts the forests of Cascadia to this day.

As mentioned previously, the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus will instinctively hide deep inside the branches of its tree if the tree is violently disturbed -- as when being felled by loggers. This often resulted in octopuses going undetected until the trees got to a saw-mill, where the octopuses usually met an unfortunate demise in the mill works. Besides killing the innocent cephalopods, these accidents cost timber companies thousands of dollars every year during the 19th and early 20th centuries due to valuable timber and pulp becoming stained with octopus ink and mills being forced to shut down for the better part of a day for deoctopussing.

Needless to say, this did not please the timber companies, nor the workers who had to clean the mangled, inky octopuses out of the works. To the timber industry, tree octopuses were nothing but costly nuisances -- a view that led to anti-octopus eradication campaigns being promoted in logging camps. Sadly, these profit-motivated cephalopodicidal outbursts were one of the major contributing factors to the tree octopus' current endangered status.

But during the time when tree octopuses were still abundant in the forests of the Northwest, "an octopus in a saw-mill" became a common idiom for an annoyingly messy accident waiting to happen. This makes the joke of the cartoon clearer: Not only will the buzz-saw hurt the trusts octopus, it'll also gum up the blade of legislation and splatter ink on Uncle Sam's patriotic finery, tarnishing his image. Presumably the Socialist editors of The Comrade found this prospect darkly amusing.

UPDATE 2009-10-02: Google Books has a collection of full issues of The Comrade, including the one with the above cartoon. Also, if you are interested in political cartoons or propaganda featuring octopuses, do visit Vulgar Army, a blog devoted almost exclusively to just that.

Lyle Zapato

... And An Octopus In A Christmas Tree

Lyle Zapato | 2008-12-26.2760 LMT | Nature | Cascadia | Sasquatch Issues

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.

Xmas Tree Octopus

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.

Lyle Zapato

Squidpocalypse Now

Lyle Zapato | 2008-12-05.9845 LMT | General Paranoia | Politics | Nature | Food

In a 5-4 decision last month the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the U.S. Navy in a dispute over the training use of sonar that ecologists claim is damaging the hearing of whales, causing them to die in mass strandings. The majority opinion, while acknowledging the "ecological, scientific and recreational interests" of protecting whales, nevertheless concluded that the public interest unquestionably lies in preparing for war in order to secure peace, and that whales are expendable.

But in a recent editorial in the Hattiesburg American titled "Squid supremacy must not rule seas", Dorothy Rose Myers of Hollywood, California, exposed the true national security threat at stake:

Whales are the only natural enemy of large squid. Squid will eat anything in the ocean, multiply by the millions and usually inhabit the depths of the ocean where whales like to feed. Without whales, squid will devour everything in the ocean and there will be a world famine.

... When the squid have eaten everything at the bottom of the ocean they will begin to rise and devour everything in each successive layer until they are supreme in the ocean. Squid supremacy trumps military supremacy. And squid will inherit the earth.

Surely the U.S. Navy must be aware of this threat. How could they not have noticed the increase in giant squid sightings in recent years? Or the swarms of aggressively predatory Humboldt squid (known in their traditional waters as Diablo Rojo -- "Red Devil") moving ever Northward? Or the now-common squid attacks on racing yachts? This suggests an ominous possibility: Could the U.S. Navy be in league with squid kind? Could the Navy's sonar technology actually have been intended to be cetacidal in order to eliminate their decapodal ally's natural enemy: the whale?

Before you dismiss this theory of a coming "Squidpocalypse" made possible by the (intentional?) actions of the U.S. Navy, consider that Ms. Myers is no mere armchair conspiracy theorist. She came to understand the mind-set of the upper echelons of the U.S. military while serving as a Pentagon employee during the Eisenhower administration.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower is, of course, famous in paranoid circles for his 1961 farewell address to the Nation, where he warned of the danger of the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the Military-Industrial Complex. Little did Eisenhower know that his fears would not only be realized, but now compounded in the form of a Military-Industrial-Squid Complex.

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

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


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.