Apr 01, 2017 I Brett Tingley

Rare Deep-Sea Octopuses Seen Wearing Jellyfish Corpses as Masks

One glance at our fellow members of the animal kingdom and it might seem ridiculous to think that we could ever eradicate crimes against humanity. Animals can be just as vindictive and cruel to one another as we are, even killing each other to settle social vendettas. Earlier this month, however, a group of chimpanzees was observed to perform what has been called the first animal mortuary ritual, showing that honoring the dead might not be a uniquely human behavior. Unlike humans who typically bury our dead, however, most animals ignore the lifeless corpses of their fallen brethren. Now, a bizarre sighting of strange octopus behavior off the coasts of California and Hawaii has marine biologists baffled about some more rather macabre animal behavior.

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The tentacles of a medusa jellyfish hang from the beak of a giant Haliphron atlanticus septipus.

The octopuses, Haliphron atlanticus, are elusive deep sea predators which can reach lengths of up to 3.5 m (11 ft) and masses up to 75 kg (165 lb). Interestingly, Haliphron atlanticus isn’t actually an octopus - it’s a septipus. Little is known about their hunting and feeding behaviors, making these sightings the first of their kind. According to the researchers’ analysis published in Scientific Reports, several octopi were filmed by ROVs wearing the half-eaten corpses of Medusa jellyfish like Halloween masks complete with mouth holes, possibly to use the dead jellyfish’s tentacles as nets to catch plankton:

[T]he clearest images show it holding the bell of the medusa with the fringe of tentacles intact, and the octopus’ beak protruding through a slit in the center of the bell [...] Therefore, in addition to feeding directly on jellyfishes, Haliphron may target the stomach contents of the medusa, or even use the medusa as a tool to obtain more nutritious prey that are captured by the fringe of tentacles clasped within the octopus arms.

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The jellyfish tentacles act as a type of funnel for gelatinous plankton.

I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty rad. The thought of one species using the dead body of another to catch its food. Sure, we might attach bait to hooks when we go fishing, but we don’t wear the skins of other animals like suits in order to attract bigger prey. Maybe a lot more people would go hunting if we did.



Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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