Science | History

Aliens invade Cornwall. Don’t be absurd!

Are octopuses from outer space? In 2018, a team of 33 researchers wrote in a peer-reviewed scientific journal that they were. And now an octopus army is swarming the UK. Chris Chesterfield got the fright of his life when he bent over to look at his underwater traps. Suddenly, the fisherman was wrestling with an octopus. “You’ve only got one or two arms pulling them up,” he says, “and they’ve got eight pulling you down!” On a single day last month, Chesterfield caught 150 octopuses. According to Matt Slater of the Cornwall Wildlife TrustA charity which organises volunteers to monitor sea life among other things., there have also been a huge number of sightings by divers. Population booms among octopuses in Britain are incredibly rare. The last one was in 1948In 1948 octopuses were reported all along the south coast of England from Land’s End to Sussex., and the one before that in 1899. The latest one is a mystery. Though a single female octopus can lay 50,000 eggs, normally only a few of them survive. But it could be that more are hatching thanks to good conditions – including a rise in sea temperatures because of climate change. Matt Slater is delighted: “They are such amazing, alien creatures – one of the most intelligent animals in our oceans.” A brilliant film called My Octopus Teacher shows how clever they are. It is about a photographer and his friendship with an octopus he found while diving in an underwater kelpA large brown type of seaweed. It can grow as fast as half a metre per day. forest off South Africa’s Western Cape. In one scene, the octopus is hunted by a pyjama sharkA comparatively small shark which gets its name from its striped body., but escapes by making lightning-fast decisions about how to hide and camouflage herself. As for octopuses being “alien” creatures, this was suggested by researchers four years ago. Author Peter Godfrey-Smith had already written about the idea, calling cephalopods “an island of mental complexity in the sea of invertebrateA cold-blooded animal with no backbone. Insects, spiders, worms and crabs are all invertebrates.  animals".  The researchers suggested that a meteor brought octopus eggs to Earth – or brought a virus which caused primitive squids to evolve into octopuses. That would explain why they are so extraordinary, with large brains, camera-like eyes and flexible bodies. Are octopuses from outer space? Tentacled spectacle Yes: They are such unusual creatures, and seem to have developed their extraordinary attributes so quickly, that they cannot have evolved in the same way as the rest of the natural world.  

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