D is for Dumbo Octopus

The Dumbo octopus resembles and is named after the flying elephant from the Walt Disney animated classic, but the two large flaps on its mantle are not ears. They are actually a set of fins that the octopus flaps to move around above the ocean floor.

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This little cephalopod stole hearts across the internet when scientists aboard the EV Nautilus captured footage of it floating daintily above the ocean floor.

Illustration for D is for Dumbo Octopus with a Dumbo Octopus Resting on the Sea Floor

Little is known about the peculiar Dumbo octopus, but many characteristics set it apart from other species. Its most obvious feature is a pair of ear-like flaps that protrude from its mantle just above the eyes.

Those prominent "ears," which resemble the flying elephant Dumbo from the animated Walt Disney classic, earned this octopus its common name.

Like other members of the "umbrella octopus" family, Dumbo octopuses have eight widely webbed arms that expand like an opening umbrella. The arms are lined with suckers and small tendrils called cirri.

Living in icy, dark ocean waters 9,800 to 14,800 feet below the surface, these cephalopods withstand pressures greater than 5,000 pounds per square inch. Rather than utilizing a form of jet propulsion, they move by flapping their fins and occasionally pulsing their arms like a jellyfish.

Dumbo Octopus Swimming

Most Dumbo octopuses hover just above the ocean floor feeding on copepods, bristle worms, bivalves and small crustaceans. It is believed that they swallow their meals whole, a departure from the method of tearing and grinding prey that most octopuses employ.

With the exception of its large fins, the Dumbo octopus is relatively small. Of about 17 known species, most are only between 7 and 12 inches long. However, in 2009 scientists did discover a giant Dumbo octopus that measured nearly 6 feet in length and weighed a whopping 13 pounds.

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