Clearly, humans are born with a natural love of cephalopods

Forget teddy bears — we’ve been representing the wrong species in our children’s toys. A hospital in Scotland has found that their premature babies like crocheted octopus toys — there’s even a group dedicated to providing them.

So, why octopuses? Well, apparently, the tentacles remind the baby of clinging to the umbilical cord in the womb, and this makes them feel safe and secure.

The hospital cares for approximately 1,000 premature babies every year, so that requires lots of octopuses for cuddling. Having the octopus close to hand can also prevent the babies from trying to pull out their tubes.

It’s not just humans, either. Our cat has a favorite toy, a crocheted octopus, of course, which she’ll drag around while making strange noises. There’s just something cute and adorable about octopuses.


  1. David Marjanović says

    So, why octopuses? Well, apparently, the tentacles remind the baby of clinging to the umbilical cord in the womb, and this makes them feel safe and secure.

    That strikes me as made up on the spot, and as unlikely considering the idea that there’s never enough oxygen in the womb for consciousness.

    Can’t it just be the snuggling? The touch of something warm and soft as opposed to loneliness?

  2. chrislawson says

    You’re right, David, that does look like a very made-up-on-the-spot reason. Besides, foetuses don’t “cling to” their umbilical cords.

    Clearly the real reason octopuses are cute is because they edit their own RNA!

  3. birgerjohansson says

    If we cross-breed cephalopods with these intelligent arachnids, we will get even cuddlier pets for our children:

    -The thing children have about tentacles is informational bleeed-over from being kept in storage for the Matrix with synthetic umbilical cords.

  4. cartomancer says

    Our cat’s favourite toy is a cloth butterfly, though given that her sole experience of prey species as an indoor cat is moths, this is not surprising. Her second favourite toy is an iridescent crab though, followed by a stuffed tetrahedron and then the twelve inch doll of renowned Cambridge Classicist Dr. Mary Beard that my mum knitted for me last Christmas. I’m not sure I’d recommend that for premature babies though, even though I was one myself.

  5. llyris says

    @ #1 David. Are you sure that babies aren’t conscious in utero? This just doesn’t seem to add up, though I only have my own experience to go on. For instance, going in to hospital to monitor the fetus, and having to drink ice water until baby wakes up and starts objecting to the cold. And the fact that babies recognise the voices of people who were around the mother during pregnancy. My daughter recognised the theme music for Q.I. from birth.
    Could you point me to some information about there not being enough oxygen for consciousness?
    Are we talking about a specific meaning for consciousness or do we mean awareness?

    Also … DAWWWWWW. Cluck cluck cluck.

  6. Ed Seedhouse says

    David Marjanović@1: “That strikes me as made up on the spot, and as unlikely considering the idea that there’s never enough oxygen in the womb for consciousness.”

    I agree that it’s probably made up on the spot, but the claim that there isn’t enough oxygen in the womb for “consciousness” seems made up on the spot too.

    To start with define “consciousness” in a clear way and explain why you know how much oxygen is required to support it.

    Quite a few human beings have climbed mount Everest, on whose summit the available oxygen is about 33% of that at sea level, without supplemental oxygen, and get back down alive and unimpaired. One even camped out overnight there and was able to wake up in the morning and get down the mountain on his own. I imagine these people were “conscious” without very much oxygen available.

    Also, in the womb, the tiny human to be doesn’t use it’s lungs to get oxygen anyway, it gets it’s oxygen via the umbilical cord.

  7. says

    I agree that it’s rather ad hoc. All you need to explain the behavior is that they have tiny little hands with a grasping reflex, and the tentacles are small enough that they can clutch them. It may help with the problem of tugging on tubes just because it provides more targets to grab.

  8. wcaryk says

    Ah, the distinctive feline “I have prey and you don’t. Neener neener!” vocalization. I wonder if they do that in the wild — you’d think it was counterproductive.

  9. ravensneo says

    As a neonatologist I must continue to burst the bubble. “Reminds the baby of grasping the umbilical cord?–which somehow gives it comfort? Exactly how was this determined? And–its a bit dangerous to cuddle with your umbilical cord–its the lifeline. The picture of a preterm baby “smiling” and “hugging” the toy is not out of a sense of joy–its a grasp reflex, the CPAP pulling up on her face, and wishful thinking. There are definitely strategies to soothe neonates that have been well studied but none of them include a toy, let alone an octopus. In fact, toys are not allowed in most NICUs unless cleanable or washable because they can harbor bacteria. And–it is bad modeling behavior for when the baby goes home because the safest bed is a bed free of fluffy things. Certain positioning (nesting, swaddling), mother’s voice, certain music, skin-to skin kangaroo care with parents are amongst the strategies used to soothe the babies. These lovely caring people who make these “toys” really want to do something for the babies, but what in fact does is make everyone caring for them feel better.I am sorry PZ–the babies do not care about the octopus. But you will be glad to know–since I am working this Sunday–they do not care about easter either.

  10. octopod says

    Well, anecdote here, but a stuffed octopus is my (born at full term, now 9 month old) baby’s favorite, and the way this is described is very similar to how he cuddles it. It seems to me that he likes the mantle because it’s boob-shaped and the arms because they’re a good size to grasp. We didn’t have it until he was 4 months old, though, so I can’t say how he’d have interacted with it as a neonate.

  11. davidc1 says

    Birgerjohasson@3 What a sick twisted mind you have ,i am scared of house spiders ,so i followed the link ready to scream .
    Don’t mind Jumping spiders ,there is a species in GB called the Zebra Spider ,you could get 3 or 4 of them on your little finger nail .

  12. ravensneo says

    @octopod–4 months old very different from neonate. Especially preterm neonates.