The Creator Of Mysterious Octagons On The Sea Floor Is Finally Identified.

Golikov, A.V. (2023)

The Creator Of Mysterious Octagons On The Sea Floor Is Finally Identified.

Like any other, the seafloor, the bottom of the Fram Strait, an oceanic channel that connects Greenland and Svalbard, is covered with a relatively indistinct layer of muck. However, octagons of all sizes, some as little as Oreos and others as enormous as extra-sized pizzas, are scattered throughout the bottom of the Fram Strait. These irregularly shaped octagons may be as deep as 14,000 feet below the water’s surface. 106 octagons were seen when researchers pulled an underwater camera above the bottom on a research tour. Some of the octagons were grouped while others were utterly alone.

The deep ocean bottom is a perfect habitat for a variety of species, many of which leave left distinctive imprints in the sludge (I use the term “footprints” figuratively since the deep sea is often devoid of feet), despite being too cold, dark, and wet for human tastes. The deep sea receives far less water movement than shallower areas, preventing these traces from being buried and leaving eerie footprints throughout the abyss. King crabs leave behind puncture-like tracks. A sea cucumber called a “gummy squirrel” leaves wandering impressions of its soft, walking limbs. Acorn worms naturally produce feces tubes that spiral like funnel cakes. While coils of excrement tubes are undoubtedly attractive, all of these other evidence seems to be clearly animal-made and hence less creepy when humans ultimately find them.

One of the many octagons on the seafloor. Credit: Golikov, A.V. (2023)
One of the many octagons on the seafloor. Credit: Golikov, A.V. (2023)

People panic whenever a deep water species leaves a more structured and geometric trace. Consider the legal line of holes discovered in the seas north of the Azores, whose creator(s) are still at large. However, the remarkably symmetric mandalas made by white-spotted pufferfish should be sufficient evidence that animals are capable of geometry. Additionally, the octagonal shape of these prints indicates a clear eight-armed maker. Scientists speculate that the cirrate octopus Cirroteuthis muelleri plunges to the bottom to eat and does so while leaving endearing octagonal impressions in the silt, according to a report published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

One of the two major varieties of octopuses, circulate octopuses, are found worldwide in deep waters. Because of their lack of ink, gelatinous texture, and distinctively sized pair of lop-eared fins on their heads, certain species of octopus are known as “dumbo” octopuses. The only octopus from the Arctic Ocean now known to science is C. muelleri, which is most often seen floating and immobile in open water, sometimes less than 2,000 feet below the surface. However, earlier research on the stomach contents of wild C. muelleri octopuses revealed that they exclusively ate bottom-dwelling animals like crustaceans, indicating that they hunted on the sea floor.

Watch a single C. muelleri octopus drifting. Wheee! Credit: Golikov, A.V. (2023)

The authors of the study noted a few octopuses that seemed to be hunting as they descended from the water column to the bottom during recent deep-sea studies in the Arctic. All of the octopuses made the same pattern of motions repeatedly. They begin by swimming gently and keeping their arms bent so that they are parallel to the ground. They encircle the earth under them by spreading out their webbed arms. They sometimes flap their fins more quickly as they spin them, probably to suck away any potential prey that may be in between them and the bottom. Finally, they leave the bottom and re-enter the open ocean.

According to the experts, this repetitive action must involve eating. They assert that since their suckers are too weak and move too slowly relative to their fast-moving food, these octopuses cannot grab and engulf prey in the water column. In one video, the researchers saw the octopus descend before dropping some mucus and maybe some prey remnants. Additionally, it didn’t seem like the ROV alarmed the octopuses; some even curiously approached the cameras.

Watch a single C. Mueller octopus enveloping prey on the seafloor. Credit: Golikov, A.V. (2023)

Scientists have seen similar behavior in certain deep-sea jellyfish and swimming sea cucumbers, albeit this is the first record of cephalopods moving from the water column to the bottom to hunt. It’s a reasonable tactic that enables animals to evade predators and save energy by swaying with the tides. These findings by C. Mueller provide this tactic an essential third benefit: style and flair.

An octopus traveling kilometers to the absolute bottom of the abyss for meals is the best example of how deeply linked deep-sea habitats are to scientists today. The next time you whine that a restaurant is “too far away to walk to,” consider that.

Watch those flapping ears! Someone’s snacking. Credit: Golikov, A.V. (2023)

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