I repeat: Octopuses are NOT aliens


Jebus. The stupidity of the media is maddening. Here are two articles now out there: Don’t freak out, but scientists think octopuses ‘might be aliens’ after DNA study and Octopuses ‘are aliens’, scientists decide after DNA study. These reporters are embarrassing.

Not to freak you out or anything, but scientists have just revealed that octopuses are so weird they’re basically aliens.

The first full genome sequence shows of that octopuses (NOT octopi) are totally different from all other animals – and their genome shows a striking level of complexity with 33,000 protein-coding genes identified, more than in a human.


As I said earlier, the study is open access. Read it. If you can’t understand the big words and the details, then you shouldn’t be writing news stories on science.

The study says exactly the opposite. It shows that octopuses use genes shared with vertebrates — the common metazoan toolbox. They have amplified genes used by other earthly animal life in unique ways, but protocadherins are a known earthly family of molecules, and zinc finger genes are a known earthly family of genes. This study reinforces the concept of common ancestry.

Do I need to add that it’s even plainly said in the abstract? Just read the abstract!

The core developmental and neuronal gene repertoire of the octopus is broadly similar to that found across invertebrate bilaterians

I just know this nonsense is going to be propagated by creationists everywhere, and I’m going to have to slam it down repeatedly. The only good thing is that it’s an easy one to rebut, and I’ll have many excuses to wrap my virtual tentacles around their rhetorical throats and squeeze.

It begins.

Proving that octopuses are creatures that arrived from another planet, possibly from another solar system, may not be revealed any time soon. However, their alien existence upon the Earth is expected to be the focus of significant research in the coming years. It is likely that they will be found to be born of the Earth, but the mysticism that they may be aliens makes the genome discovery quite intriguing.


  1. robro says

    Tabby — Only if they start trying to get green cards, drivers licenses, or welfare benefits. Then, wham!

    The Irish Examiner article could use some editorial intelligence as well as basic common sense. What the heck does “basically ‘aliens'” mean anyway. And I love this: “Researchers have found a new map…” where did they find it? Out in the sea in the octopuses garden in the shade? Does it lead to their buried treasure? Jeez, what a crock.

    Incidentally, I’m getting a 404 error for the second article link.

  2. Nightjar says

    This study reinforces the concept of common ancestry.

    I can see the headlines now:

    “Aliens share a common ancestor with humans, biologist says after DNA study”

    What? It makes about as much sense as those two titles!



    Incidentally, I’m getting a 404 error for the second article link.

    That’s because the link is broken. The article is here.

  3. Holms says

    Science journalism flops again. I wish, I wish there was some sort of requirement for science journalists to actually know an iota or two about the subject in question…

  4. Dreaming of an Atheistic Newtopia says

    I hate “science” journalism with the passion of a trillion dying suns.
    If anyone comes to me with this shite, which i expect to happen at some point, there’s an actual chance i’ll punch them… (no there isn’t).

  5. robro says

    Interesting, both articles use the “basically aliens.” Perhaps someone is plagiarizing. Oh, I see, they’re getting that from one of the co-authors, Clifton Ragsdale, who said in the Nature news article, “It’s the first sequenced genome from something like an alien.” The Nature writer described him saying it as a joke.

    Scientists shouldn’t joke around science journalists because the journalists aren’t smart enough to distinguish a joke from the actual scientific information…I guess.

    Holms — “I wish there was some sort of requirement for science journalists to actually know…about the subject…” Next thing you’re going to expect political and economics journalists to know something about their respective subjects. Jeez.

    (I should be careful here. I’ve been married to a journalist for 25 years…if that got out, oooh boy! No joke.)

    Nightjar — Thanks for the link. I know what a 404 is. I’ve created a few myself. (And on a different note, I’m getting Preview Error sometimes when I click the Preview button.)

  6. fredericksparks says

    I was praying (joke intended) that you would write about this when I saw the article yesterday. WTF

  7. Nightjar says


    And on a different note, I’m getting Preview Error sometimes when I click the Preview button.

    Me too. I’m also getting errors when I click Post Comment*. Not just today, I think it has been happening for the past three days.

    *In fact, it just happened now. Second try…

  8. Rich Woods says

    @Tabby #2:

    If octopuses are aliens, will Trump build a wall on all American shores?

    Only after saying that the octopuses will probably pay for it.

  9. Al Dente says

    I repeat: Octopuses are NOT aliens

    I, for one, welcome our alien octopus overlords.

  10. busterggi says

    “The first full genome sequence shows of that octopuses (NOT octopi) are totally different from all other animals”

    Won’t somebody think of the squids?

  11. Zacheize says

    I’m curious. One of the big theories out right now (which I am probably about to horribly mischaracterize) is that DNA was originally formed by RNA brought to earth by Comets or the like. Wouldn’t that make every living thing an alien?

  12. chigau (違う) says

    I, for one, am DeeplyDisappointed™ that the Pfft article on Panspermia doesn’t include a reference to Vonnegut’s The Big Space Fuck.

  13. robro says

    Per the New Oxford American Dictionary:

    usage: The standard plural in English of octopus is octopuses. However, the word octopus comes from Greek, and the Greek plural form octopodes is still occasionally used. The plural form octopi is mistakenly formed according to rules for Latin plurals, and is therefore incorrect.

    That should completely clear that up.

  14. says

    I strongly suspect that the octopodal community would prefer to be aliens than to share a common ancestor with the current Republican candidates for the presidency.

    Or, for that matter, with Messrs Hovind and Ham.

  15. brett says

    They’re not aliens, but they are extremely fascinating for what they represent. They’re the independent evolution of
    “high intelligence” in the invertebrate lines, something that otherwise only occurred among a handful of vertebrate lineages (particularly birds and mammals).

    That actually makes me more optimistic about the evolution of intelligence on other worlds.

  16. drewl, Mental Toss Flycoon says

    sff9 @18

    Thanks for that link! That, and the link at the end of the article, was a fun trip back to my 2 yrs of Latin in college. I’m surprised I remember as much of the grammar as I do.

  17. Holms says

    OB left of her own volition, buddy. Oh and who was banned? My understanding is no one.
    Alternatively, sod off.

  18. blf says

    What did I miss?

    I don’t actually know, but I presume whatever it was, comparing the presumed troll to anything would be an insult to whatever the presumed troll was being compared to. Probably even if the presumed troll was compared to itself.

  19. chris61 says

    I wonder if thinking octopuses were alien would in any way inhibit Red Wings fans from flinging them on the ice at hockey games? If so, I’m all for it.

  20. Amphiox says

    I believe this “octopuses are like aliens” thing came from some off-the-cuff speculation that cephalopods would make a good analog to *intelligent* aliens, because they evolved their complex nervous system independently, and in a very different environment, from land vertebrates, and have a different body plan from all the other intelligent species on this planet (which are mostly vertebrates) that humans have studied.

    The idea that they would be analogous to aliens in general? Well, they’re still ANIMALS, meaning they’re more closely related to humans than 99% of all life on earth….

  21. Ichthyic says

    everyone that I ever knew who did research on octopus always used the same plural form we ichthyologists used for fish.

    namely, a group of the same species, the plural is the same as the singular, octopus.

    group of different species, the plural is octopuses.

    same as fish.

    school of fish of the same species.

    school of fishes of different species.

    makes perfect sense.

  22. drewl, Mental Toss Flycoon says

    Ichthyic @36

    That was my original thought (for me)… sheep, moose, etc.

    I always considered those as ‘collective singulars’. I don’t know the proper terms for that sort of thing, but you explained my gut feelings very well, especially regarding species. Is there a grammatical term for that sort of situation?

  23. marcus says

    PZ “I repeat: Octopuses are NOT aliens!”
    Well of course that’s what the leader of the alien cephalopd invasion would say.

  24. says

    sff9 #18
    Interesting article! http://www.heracliteanriver.com/?p=240.
    He missed the Zeroth category: People who use octopodes as a mock academical joke.
    To that I’d only add that he missed analogy as a possible cause from the plural “Antipodes”, referring to the guys (and later places) that have their feet opposite ours. You don’t see many people saying *Antipi or *Antipusses, or at least I don’t. I suppose in the final analysis that’s because, unless you happen to be Long John Silver, you probably don’t have an Antip[o]us in the singular.

  25. Athywren - Frustration Familiarity Panda says

    If octopuddings aren’t aliens, how come the moon exists?
    Checkmate panspermiacs!

    Even if they were so unlike other extant lifeforms as to be “basically aliens” so what? It’s not like we were sitting here thinking that their DNA would have a 97% match with ours, were we? They were always going to be unlike us… I mean, have you ever seen one? They’re not particularly like us.

  26. ChasCPeterson says

    Is there a grammatical term for that sort of situation?

    “sportsmen’s plural”

  27. Tethys says

    So all these fossil cephalopods I have collected aren’t aliens? Seriously, I know several children with a better grasp on science and evolution than the author of this piece of dreck. The mollusks have been evolving diverse and unique body plans for millions of years before the first vertebrate crawled onto land.

    Cephalopods are extraordinary molluscs equipped with vertebrate-like intelligence and a unique buoyancy system for locomotion. A growing body of evidence from the fossil record, embryology and Bayesian molecular divergence estimations provides a comprehensive picture of their origins and evolution. Cephalopods evolved during the Cambrian (∼530 Ma) from a monoplacophoran-like mollusc in which the conical, external shell was modified into a chambered buoyancy apparatus. During the mid-Palaeozoic (∼416 Ma) cephalopods diverged into nautiloids and the presently dominant coleoids. Coleoids (i.e. squids, cuttlefish and octopods) internalised their shells and, in the late Palaeozoic (∼276 Ma), diverged into Vampyropoda and the Decabrachia. This shell internalisation appears to be a unique evolutionary event. In contrast, the loss of a mineralised shell has occurred several times in distinct coleoid lineages. The general tendency of shell reduction reflects a trend towards active modes of life and much more complex behaviour.

    I think I have a fairly good grasp of early metazoan diversification. The common ancestor of cephalopods and humans existed many millions of years before the Cambrian, and is thought to be a sea- slug/flatworm looking soft bodied animal. I don’t know if it would properly be classified as a worm?