I really wanted to find out that the octopus came from outer space. With eye stalks that rotate, suckers on its multiple arms, and a “brain” located mostly along the tentacles, the octo is curious to some and downright disturbing to others. When I saw the headline: “Alien” octopuses “arrived on earth from space as cryopreserved eggs” I had to trace the theory back to the paper in a legitimate scientific journal which suggested this intriguing occurrence.
Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed by Snopes and the article’s lack of deductive reasoning and relevant facts. Bummer! The ghost of Darwin has, for now, fended off the extraterrestrials but, as an encore, has performed biological magic with starfish.
First, an important grammar lesson. I was taught that the plural of hippopotamus is hippopotami, so that the plural of octopus would be octopi, but my mother was wrong. Octopus is not Latin–like the word radius (plural radii)–but Greek oktṓpous (ὀκτώπους, ‘eight-foot’). So the plural is octopuses (or octopedes) but never octopi.
And Moses supposes his toeses are roses…
Octopuses Are from Space, Scientists Say
In the March 2018 issue of Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, 33 scientists submitted the paper : “Cause of Cambrian Explosion – Terrestrial or Cosmic?” Once before, a scientist used the word “alien” in 2015 when discussing his theory of octopuses, and online sites ran wild with crazy claims; but it turned out scientist Clifton Ragsdale just meant they were weird. This time the gang of 33 wasn’t quoted out of context:
…The possibility that cryopreserved Squid and/or Octopus eggs, arrived in icy bolides several hundred million years ago should not be discounted … as that would be a parsimonious cosmic explanation for the Octopus’ sudden emergence on Earth ca. 270 million years ago. — Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, March 2018
If you read Science at all–and I can speak a little Multifactorial Data although I am more fluent in Chart and Logic–this article is a very fun read. Some of the concepts were alien to me (ho ho!), but the argument seems to be:
- There was a huge explosion of biological diversity at the start of the Cambrian era, about 270 million years ago.
- How can we explain this giant increase in the number, type, and complexity of creatures that “suddenly” appeared in that fossil record?
- Pretty good evidence exists that comets and space things can support life i.e. viruses and such.
- Lots of planets could be as habitable as earth because there are so many planets and, besides, Mars.
- It was very hot on earth in those really early billion years, so it seems super strange and highly unlikely that all of the complexity of biological life could have developed the way it did, especially since we can’t replicate it in a lab.
- Because there are probably so many habitable planets out there, it’s more likely that life would have gotten off those planets somehow, maybe on a comet (hitchhiking?), versus life developing on earth when it was so hot and primitive and all.
- For example, the octopus.
This Looks Like a Job for Darwin
Those darn fossils! We’re limited to what we see. If there was an explosion of diversity in the pre-Cambrian era, but the critters didn’t leave skeletons in the right kind of clay, then we wouldn’t know about them. Plus that Darwin Natural Selection thing takes place over such a long time that how do we really know? You weren’t there, were you?
So, scientists did say that octopuses were seeded from eggs on comets, but the real fun is when other scientists started debunking their theory. I loved it when Mark Carnall from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History tweeted about “jumping the octopus”…
Meanwhile, Natural Selection is at work in my own back yard. In 2014, oceanographers noticed something horrible happening to the sea star Pisaster ochraceus, a starfish common to the Pacific coast. An estimated 80% of this species was lost to Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) by 2015.
Last year, however, divers started noticing hundreds of little baby starfish clinging to rocks, “a 74-fold increase in the number of juveniles surviving…” according to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists compared the DNA before and after: the 80% that died off, the 20% that survived the plague, and the new li’l miracles.
The new paper’s authors … found the juveniles who are succeeding in coastal ecosystems today share a gene that resists the virus, suggesting that the virus catalyzed a process of natural selection–from The Guardian
Repopulation by cometary cryopreserved eggs was not necessary. Natural selection did its thing. The starfish who were plague-resistant thrived and repopulated the species.
If only Darwin could figure out how to do that with the bees.