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NAME GAME

Video: This tiny octopus is so cute, scientists want to name it “adorabilis”

By Gwynn Guilford

Terrifying creatures rove the sea’s black depths. But apparently, so do adorable ones. Like the tiny, big-eyed octopus in the clip above, which many liken to the ghosts in Pac-Man.

Despite its cartoonish charm, this seven-inch deep-sea octopus hasn’t yet been given a name. That job falls to Stephanie Bush, a researcher at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) in charge of describing the new species.

“One of the thoughts I had was making it ‘Opisthoteuthis adorabilis’ because they are just—yeah, they’re really cute,” she says in the video by Science Friday.

Like its cousins in the Opisthoteuthis family, this new “flapjack octopus,” as they’ve been nicknamed, gets around by flapping a fringe of webbing between its arms so that it hovers just above the seafloor. “They’ll just spread that web and kind of parachute along,” says Bush, adding that they steer themselves with fins.

Its pinkish hue is common among deep-sea creatures—and not for its cuteness factor. In the abyssal depths, seawater absorbs wavelengths of red light, camouflaging red creatures in the blackness—and making it easier for them to evade predators or ambush prey. In the new Opisthoteuthis’ case, that’s generally crustaceans, worms, and other morsels it can snap up from the seafloor.

Preserved specimens of the new cute-but-nameless octopus have been on file since the 1990s. However, in 2014, in its exploration of Monterey Canyon in the eastern Pacific, MBARI collected several live specimens. These now live at Monterey Bay Aquarium in an exhibit tank specially designed to imitate the cold, low-oxygen fathoms of their deep-sea habitat (they’re not currently on exhibit but might be in the near future).

Unexpectedly, one of these tiny octopi laid eggs, which are now being incubated at MBARI. It could take a few years for the eggs to hatch. But when they do, we’ll find out if the one thing cuter than O. adorabilis—if that ends up being its name—is baby O. adorabilis.