“For there’s no such thing as a reckless octopus hunter. You’re either careful or dead.”

Uh, right. That line comes from a story in a 1949 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, “Octopus wrestling is my hobby”.


The story involves a ferocious octopus with 25-foot long arms that fought an entire village of people armed with clubs, knives, and spears—the description of the battle isn’t at all clear, but it sounds like the monster is coming to the surface in shallow water and fighting all these people milling around. It’s a very silly story.

It was difficult to spear the octopus if it were far back in the coral caverns. But Roo had his own system for drawing the creature out. Retreating a short distance from the lair, he would take up his vivo (flute) and play weird tunes upon it the way a Hindu fakir charms a cobra. His piping would soon attract the octopus from its cavern–first the globular, horned head, then the long tentacles with their double row of cup-like suckers. Out of curiosity the octopus would approach within striking distance. In a split second our spears would speed into the revolting mass.

Then, there would be a human-like moan and the water would be clouded with sepia. The long tentacles would flay the surface of the lagoon in savage fury, as the monster tried to rid itself of our spears which were firmly imbedded in its head. If necessary, another spear would be dispatched into the writhing hulk. It took a long time to tire the octopus and we had to hold firmly to the ropes attached to the end of the spears to prevent it from sinking to the bottom of the lagoon where it would be lost to us.

In fact, I think the author was making it all up!


  1. Christian Burnham says

    P.Z., if you’re still awake,
    How about setting up a quick blog entry on the death of Vonnegut so us late nighters can swap dumb quotes?

    Sorry for highjacking.

  2. pop culture spy says

    PZ — This is off-topic, but I know you like pop culture references of yourself, so here’s one from this week’s indie comic “Fall of Cthulhu”, from a scene where the hero is going through the files of his weird uncle, who had earlier that day shot himself through the head in front of the hero (Cy) and his girlfriend (Jordan):

    JORDAN: Anything yet?

    CY: News articles. Websites. Things like that.

    JORDAN: What about?

    CY: Weird $@!# Invisible ocean monsters killing divers in the arctic, aboriginal zombie worship, some blog entries from a Minnesota professor with a squid fetish.

    JORDAN: Oh God. Tentacle porn?

    Sounds like a pithy summary of the contents of Pharyngula, yes?

    P.S. Let me know if you want a jpg, and I’ll email you the scan. No squids were harmed in the making of the comic … yet.

  3. Steve_C (Secular Elitist) FCD says

    I watched the See Monsters show last night…

    The little Blue Ring Octopus is awesome!

  4. says

    1949 Mechanix Illustrated, eh? I’ll have to look in my father’s basement for that one!

    In his book Kingdom of the Octopus Frank Lane describes what I think is the discovery of how venomous blue-ringed octopodes are. It seems that a couple of fellows in Australia were wading in shallow water when one of them scooped up a small octopus and threw it at the other, hitting him in the chest–where it promptly bit him. The bite killed him within an hour or so. Before that, so unaggressive are they that no one suspected the little octopus.

  5. jc. says

    Murderous baboon tribes, bloodthirsty killer whales, man eating boa constrictors, ravening army ant swarms, lurking ravenous schools of pirhanas, deadly killer tarantulas, giant killer clams, these all seem to be things of the past.
    I tell you nature aint what it used to be when I was growing up!
    I blame global warming and political correctness.

  6. Steff Z says

    Making it up.

    first the globular, horned head, then the long tentacles with their double row of cup-like suckers

    If you’ve EVER watched an octopod move around*, even on TV, you ought to be all perplexed at that one. Mantle first? What?! How? The muscles in that big baggy blob of mantle are set up for sucking water in, and squeezing water (poop, eggs, whatever) out.
    Maybe head first — the actual head — the eyes, and those goofy voluntary poky horn-thingies. (The head is between the arms and the mantle, between and below the eyes.) Maybe if it’s coming up out of a hole, rather than sideways out of a den. But even so, a front arm or two, at least, comes spilling out at the same time, if not before. And almost awlays, before. The “globular” description tells me the author doesn’t mean the actual head. He imagines that octopods lead with their hindparts.

    [*Not counting expert specialist stuff like pretending to be a coconut sidling away, or a sea snake, or a flatfish, or a lionfish, or . . . or, well, being a wonderpus or a mimic octopus.]

    Other clues: the moaning without vocal cords (or any other way to produce sounds other than beak-clicks); the bleeding ink instead of proper gory blue blood; the hanging on to (apparently) the water surface so tightly that it takes two guys in an outrigger canoe to keep the (firmly tethered) beast from getting away (why don’t they just pick it up? or scoop it in a bucket?); the mighty-mighty tropical-reef octopus (which are maybe 30 lbs, max); and a few more references to its “head” that pretty obviously mean the mantle.

    The author is not only making it up, he’s making it up incompetently.
    He probably thinks it’s great when movies show a bald eagle (nobly soaring overhead) and play the scream of a red-tailed hawk for the foley.
    I can’t figure out how he got the “double row of suckers” right.

  7. Steff Z says

    In other news, a *pelagic* tropical octopus (which can get to be very large), from the “what the hell is that thing?” department.

    From the good and expert people at The Octopus News Magazine Online:
    Unknown Phylum with 4 good pictures, and a detailed description by a trained wildlife-oberver-person, and a lively discussion including some excellent interpretive sketches.

    Ha. I said, after seeing just the first 3 photos, “but that’s a carpet octopus!” (by which I meant, of course, a female carpet octopus). Scrolling down to the 4th photo convinced me. After much discussion, and a little more info, that seems to be right.

    One of PZ’s rotating random cool upper-left photos is a male carpet octo, fiercely (and adorably) wielding short bits of Man-O-War jellyfish tentacles. “Grrrrrr! Back off, man, I’m a cephalopod.” Good photos of the males require at least a macro lens, if not a dissecting scope.
    (OK, right, if they can’t moan, they can’t growl either. I meant “Grrrrr!” figuratively.)

    There is weirder biology out there than we can make up. Hooray!

  8. Steff Z says

    Oh, man!
    I mean a blanket octopus, of course.

    Drat! I mix them up with carpet pythons ALL the TIME.

  9. says

    Um… how do you play the flute under water?

    This is hilarious. Right up there with “Weasels Ripped My Flesh!” (I learned recently that Frank Zappa took that title from a piece in a ’50s men’s adventure magazine.)