The evolution and biology of pelagic octopods

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Richard E. Young, Ph.D.
University of Hawaii

Wednesday, August 19, 1998
3:30 p.m.—Pacific Forum

Pelagic octopods are among the more unusual cephalopods, but because of difficulties in studying them, they are also among the more poorly known cephalopods. This talk introduces the audience to pelagic octopods and their evolution. Unfortunately, the fossil record provides little help in understanding when and how octopods in general evolved. Indeed, in the early 1920s Adolf Naef, who pioneered studies on cephalopod evolution, concluded that the evolutionary history of octopods would remain obscure forever. Naef, however, did not anticipate the advent of molecular genetics that is revolutionizing phylogenetic studies, nor did he realize that an obscure finned octopod, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, was not an octopod at all but a very different type of cephalopod that eventually would provide clues to the origin of the Octopoda.

Today eleven families of octopods are recognized, and nine of these are pelagic. Despite the overwhelming predominance of higher taxa in the pelagic realm, the earliest octopods were benthic. Over time, multiple invasions of the pelagic realm by benthic octopods resulted in a diverse set of unusual adaptations that include telescopic eyes, swimbladders, brood shells, bioluminescence, and symbioses.

Next: Annual MBARI Summer Intern Symposium

Last updated: December 19, 2000