What is the Tree Octopus?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 September 2019
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The Pacific Northwest tree octopus or Octopus paxarbolis is a rare arboreal cephalopod with a range which stretches from California to British Columbia, with a concentration in the Olympic National Forest. Popularization of the cause of this animal has led a number of individuals to lobby for its inclusion on the Endangered Species List; alas, because the tree octopus is really an Internet hoax, these attempts have been unsuccessful.

The invention of the hoax has been credited to Lyle Zapato, who first started posting about the octopus in 1998, providing images of purported sightings along with general information about the habits and habitat of the Pacific Northwest tree octopus. Lyle's hoax was so well constructed that many people fell for it at the time and continue to do so, and the hoax even inspired the term "tree octopus problem" to refer to Internet literacy issues.

Zapato's site includes detailed information on the habits, habitat, and lifestyle of the animal. Visitors learn that tree octopi spawn in water, and that the animals are extremely shy. They purportedly move through the trees using a technique known as tentaculation, and they eat a varied diet which can include small animals and birds. The average octopus is around 13 inches (33 centimeters) in length, and like their aquatic counterparts, tree octopi can camouflage themselves to blend in with the surrounding environment.


The primary predators of the tree octopus, according to Zapato, are Sasquatch and bald eagles. The animals have also been subjected to habitat pressures as a result of pollution, logging, and other human activities, most famously the extensive harvest of tree octopi to decorate the hats of fashion-forward women in the 1920s. Invasive species such as feral cats have also been fingered as culprits involved in the declining population.

The well constructed information site on the octopus has been used in a number of classroom exercises to get students to learn to evaluate Internet websites critically and in studies to test Internet literacy. Surprisingly, many students and study subjects believed that the tree octopus site was genuine, even recommending the site to others and writing to representatives to request support for the tree octopus. The acceptance of the site as believable and valid has been used as an illustration of the problems Internet users face. Critical thinking skills and the ability to evaluate material presented as real are important for people who use the Internet to gather information.


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Post 6

Why did Lyle Zapato perpetuate this hoax? Was he also testing kids?

Post 3

The "Other Animals of Interest" list seemed to have missed several long established "animals". The Snow Snake, Nocturnal Woodland Snipe, Screaming Tree Frog, and Barking Spider are not on that listing. Some could argue that the last two are better not saved or acknowledged when encountered.

Post 2

@ GlassAxe- Ha Ha Ha. That is so funny. I just posted a link to the dihydrogen monoxide site and the northern tree octopus site on my facebook page. I have a friend that is a complete conspiracy theorist so I am waiting to see if he bites, and re-sends the link to people. Hopefully it will be as funny as I envision.

Post 1

This is such a funny internet hoax. It reminds me of the hoax about dihydrogen monoxide or dihydrogen oxide. The compound is just water, but there are a few websites and organizations on the internet that lobby for the ban of dihydrogen monoxide. They say things like it is a chemical compound that is the basis for many explosives, disease, carcinogens, and environmental hazards.

These claims are all true, but they are greatly exaggerated. they are really aimed at beginners in chemistry, and often professors will test students by having them research dihydrogen monoxide.

Anyway, after reading this article I had to visit the tree octopus website to see how well done the hoax is. I have to say that it was amusing, and the quality of the site was impressive.

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