Friday, December 15, 2023

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus

 Author: Makayla

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is a 33-centimeter cephalopod found in the Olympic Peninsula on the west coast. Contradictory to the anatomy of most octopus, the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, also known as the Octopus paxarbolis, is amphibious, living on both water and land. To survive in both aquatic and terrestrial environments, it uses a form of locomotion called tentaculation and has the ability to express itself and communicate with other octopus through skin color change.

Photo by Gus Andrews

Unfortunately, this extraordinary creature is losing its home in the trees to the building of roads and suburban sprawl, which is cutting off its access to the water. It is also targeted by loggers, foreign animals, and its national predators, the bald eagle and the sasquatch. Loggers view the octopus as a nuisance and often kill them at logging sights to eradicate the amphibian. As a result of the countless hunting and killings and the destruction of their homes due to manmade geography, the number of Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus is critically low, and they are endangered.

Luckily for the octopus, it does not exist. The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus was a hoax, created on March 8, 1998, by a person who’s created multiple other fake articles under the pseudonym of Lyle Zapato. Zapato made up the octopus and the website to mock gullible internet users. Many fell for the fake website, and it prompted research, studies, and other attempts to replicate Zapato’s work. According to Hana LaRock, a journalist who was a high school student in a computer class when the website was posted, stated that, “The site was used to teach young internet users the importance of “doing your research” - of understanding that anything could be found online”. Though this wasn’t the exact purpose behind Zapato’s website, the biggest impact of his website was its appearance in internet literacy tests. In an NBC Connecticut news article, in 2011, It was reported that The University of Connecticut was recreating the hoax to see how many students would believe it without fact checking first. They stated that, “Most people who took part in the study, fell for it, hook, line and tentacle. In fact, not only did the students believe that the tree octopus was real, they actually refused to believe researchers when they told them the creature was fake.” While Zapato aimed to belittle and mock internet users, he instead helped many with his Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus hoax, and further encouraged internet literacy.

Works Cited:

Beaulieu, Scott. An Octopus in a Tree Seems Real, Doesn't It? 7 February 2011

Andrews, Gus. The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus in repose. 26 December 2004. Flickr, 20 March 2016  

LaRock, Hana. The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus: A Virtual Artifact of Misinformation, 3 May 2021.

Zapato, Lyle. Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, 8 Mar 1998

Zapato, Lyle. TERROR OF LOGGERS AND FOREST RANGERS’. 29 December 2014. ZPi, 1998

Links for Further Research:

“Only In Your State”, Explains more about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus as it was experienced by people in Washington, the state of the hoax origin.

“What does The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus Eat?” This article is the story of the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus through the eyes of an animal scientist who believes in the hoax and explains its background thoroughly.

 “ENDANGERED: Pacific Northwest tree octopus might soon disappear”, This article is one of the many ones that goes along with the hoax, trying to convince readers, but also debunks the hoax as well. 

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