Now a reader has sent me a link to the formal taxonomic description of Wunderpus photogenicus, and we can get more details on this beautiful animal.
A taxonomic paper is more than a couple of gosh-wow pictures and the announcement of a spiffy name — it’s a fairly detailed description of as much as is known about the species, with special attention paid to the technical features that distinguish this species from other similar ones. They tend to be a little dry, but are usually well-illustrated and fun to read for the pictures, if nothing else. But we also learn about behavior, distribution, and anatomy.
Wunderpus photogenicus n. gen. and n. sp. is a spectacular long-armed species that occurs on soft sediment habitats in shallow
waters (typically less than 20 m deep) in Indo-Malayan waters. It is characterized by small eyes on elongate stalks, a long,
conical papilla over each eye and a dramatic and fixed color pattern of white bars and spots over a brown-red background. The
distribution of the species is centered in the Indo-Malayan Archipelago and extends from Vanuatu to Papua New Guinea,
Indonesia and Malaysia, north to the Philippines. Animals typically emerge at dusk and dawn to forage in the twilight,
primarily catching small crustaceans and fishes by flaring the arms and webs over patches of sand or coral rubble to trap
enclosed (and typically buried) prey. The species also extends its arms into holes to probe for potential prey. The distinctive
color pattern of this species is most pronounced when the octopus is disturbed or threatened by real or perceived attackers. It
appears to be a warning display and may represent one of two scenarios: either 1) it warns that the octopus is directly toxic or
venomous by nature or; 2) it represents impersonations of toxic or venomous creatures with similar color patterns which co-occur in the same habitat. The new genus and species is compared with, and distinguished from, other long-armed octopuses.
I don’t know about you, but when I first read a taxonomic description I immediately flip ahead to anything about reproduction, sexual anatomy, and development (I’m a developmental biologist…I’ve got an excuse). This paper doesn’t disappoint. Here’s the hectocotyl arm, one arm of the male that is specially modified to act as an intromittent organ.
Just in case you’ve forgotten all the fun details of cephalopod sex, I’ll remind you that males produce a sperm packet called a spermatophore (that’s one to the right) which, as a preliminary to mating, they more or less ejaculate onto the tip of one specialized arm, the hectocotylized arm, which they then insert and deposit into the funnel and mantle of the female. Beware: a cephalopod male copping a feel actually is trying to impregnate his target.
If you really want detail, there’s also a discussion of the guts of the animal: here are the gonads and reproductive tract.
I was disappointed in one way: there are eggs there, but no description of their development! That’s not surprising, though, since as I’ve mentioned before, cephalopod development is hard to study. I can dream, though, of a day when every taxonomic paper is accompanied by a complete genomic sequence and a full staging series. The former will become a more likely feature than the latter, I suspect.
Hochberg FG, Norman MD, Finn J (2006) Wunderpus photogenicus n. gen. and sp., a new octopus from the shallow waters of the
Indo-Malayan Archipelago (Cephalopoda: Octopodidae). Molluscan Research 26(3):128-140.