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Octopuses are taking over our oceans and, yes, it’s time to panic

Posted by
Nick Pope
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When tabloids grow sweaty over potential invasions of giant, banana-dwelling foreign spiders with poisonous machine guns for eyes, you know to take the spine-pinching news with a bucket of salt.

But trust us when we tell you that there is a creature conquest on the way, and it’s far more chilling than a bunch of overgrown insects.

According to scientists, the number of cephalopods in the sea – namely squids, octopuses and cuttlefish – is rising at an unprecedented rate, and nobody has any idea why.

In a piece of analysis published today by Current Biology, scientists are trying to get a grip on a problem which could soon see octopuses gain advantage on land and declare all-out war on the human race (our opinion, not theirs - but we’re sure they’d come to the same conclusion, anyway.)

“The consistency was the biggest surprise,” said lead study author Zoë Doubleday of the University of Adelaide. “Cephalopods are notoriously variable, and population abundance can fluctuate wildly, both within and among species.”

In fact, it was a particular fluctuation which led to the new study. Years ago, the giant Australian cuttlefish suffered a sudden population crash, “almost disappearing completely”. Doubleday and her team decided to look at the boom-bust cycles across the cephalopod populations to see if there are any patterns.

But as most of the ocean’s inhabitants diminish, squids and octopuses continue to spread their inevitably horrific seed. Why? Doubleday and her co-authors are still investigating, but they put it down to environmental conditions getting them in the mood. “Cephalopods tend to boom and bust - they’re called the weeds of the sea. If environmental conditions are good, they can rapidly exploit those conditions because they grow so fast.”

And why are the environmental conditions good? Glad you asked, reader. One reason might be that humans are killing cephalopod competitors: predatory fish.

Global warming could also be playing a role, so if climate-change denier Donald Trump actually does make it into office, there’s a good chance that octopuses will be climbing out of your sinks and shower heads on the daily (this is not, strictly talking, true – but it makes just as much sense as any of his arguments against global warming.)

But we don’t have to worry about octopus-infested beaches just yet – because they could defeat the problem themselves. “They’re highly cannibalistic - they might start eating each other if they overgrow,” Doubleday said.

Somehow, that just terrifies us more. And what’s more, we’re not risking it. All hail the cephalo-Gods. May you creep us out for all eternity.