The evolution and biology of pelagic
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.
MBARI Summer Intern Symposium
Last updated: December 19, 2000