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“Kraken” Found? – Fossils Point to a Giant, Ichthyosaur-Eating Octopus

Giant OctopusHello, Frank Indiviglio here.  For centuries, sailors have repeated the legend of the Kraken, an enormous octopus-like creature said to attack ships (please see artist’s recreation).  Today we believe that such tales were based on actual sightings of real-life Giant Squids, which may exceed 60 feet in length (frightening, but never observed attacking ships…as far as we know!).  However, recently uncovered fossil evidence suggests that a giant octopus actually may have haunted the Triassic seas – and that it was able to capture bus-sized marine reptiles known as Ichthyosaurs!

A Fossil-Hunter’s Mystery

Armed with saber-like teeth and reaching more than 45 feet in length, Ichthyosaurs were long thought to have been the Triassic Period’s top marine predators (please see photo of skeleton).  However, recent findings have led some researchers to believe that something, perhaps a giant octopus, was able to make a meal of even these formidable beasts. 

For over 50 years, paleontologists have been puzzled by the odd arrangement of the Ichthyosaur fossils that are located in Nevada’s Berlin-Ichthyosaur National Park.  The bones seem to have been physically moved about so as to fit neatly together.  The fossils represent several individual animals, and the generally accepted theory was that they had died together, perhaps as a result of a group-stranding (as happens with pilot whales today).

Den of the Kraken Found?

TemnodontosaurusHowever, a recent study at this site (presented before the Geological Society of America this week, October 10, 2011) reveals that the individual Ichthyosaurs likely died at different times.  So why did their bones wind up together, and in a neat pile no less?

One prevailing theory is that a huge octopus or other Cephalopod killed the creatures and dragged them to its undersea den.  The giant predator may have piled the bones in or near its lair once it had finished feeding, just as octopuses do today.  Broken bones and twisted necks, found on some of the Ichthyosaurs, lend credence to the theory that they were killed by a predator.

Formidable Cephalopods Survive Today

Unfortunately, squid and octopus remains do not fossilize well, so we have little direct evidence of their lives and sizes.  However, those that survive today are no less fantastic than their extinct relatives.

It was only very recently that the famed Giant Squid was first filmed, and then finally captured on a line (please see article below); its size staggers the imagination.  And at the Seattle Aquarium, the culprit behind the mysterious death of a large shark was found to be a Pacific Giant Octopus (please see video below) – aquarists never expected such a “mushy” creature to be capable of killing a shark.  The Common Tropical Octopus often appears in the pet trade and can be a fascinating addition to one’s collection – please see the article below for information on its care.

Pacific Giant OctopusFolks interested in paleontology and marine creatures have a wide open field ahead of them…please write in with your thoughts and plans!

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.  Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly. 

Thanks, until next time,

Frank Indiviglio

Further Reading

Video: Giant Octopus Battles Shark

Captive Care of the Common Tropical Octopus

First Ever Photos of Live Giant Squid

The Legend of the Kraken



Temnodontosaurus Skeleton image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Ghedoghedo


  1. avatar

    Hello Frank,

    I’ve found two giant pacific octopus dens in about 5 feet of water. One is a quite massive individual…they other one maybe half its size. Anyway I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how to convince them to come out of their dens for some video? I was thinking maybe a mackerel, small shore crab in a jar, or else some trinket they might find curious? Of course, I would keep tight hold of my camera!

    You might enjoy this little documentary I shot and edited a few days ago.

    All the Best
    ~Joseph See

  2. avatar

    Hello Joseph, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Nice to hear from you again. Thanks so much for sending the links to your video….I really enjoyed it and the other on Leopard Sharks. So nice to see that you are involved in such interesting projects.

    I’m surprised to learn that pacific Giant Octopuses will use dens in such shallow water – thanks for that bit of info. I’m only familiar with captives…most I’ve been around became quite bold in time and would come out to investigate crabs, fish and also shiny objects. However, given their intelligence I’m guessing that wild ones may be hard to trick. Let me know how all goes; I can check with an aquarium contact to see if he has any ideas.

    Good luck, enjoy and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

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About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.