Monday, October 10, 2011

Sea Monster Self-Portrait?

As reported here, a husband/wife team from Mount Hol­yoke Col­lege are asserting that the fossilized remains of several bus-sized ichthyosaurs at Nevada's Ber­lin-Ich­thy­o­saur State Park are actually the remnants of prior meals of an enormous ancient octopus, and that the beast had arranged the bones, specifically the vertebrae of the ichthyosaurs, to make something of a self-portrait. You can see what resembles a sucker pattern in the image here.

Is this possible? My first thought was "infinite monkey syndrome." Given enough time, there eventually will be an octopus lair with bones that make a reasonable facsimile of Botticelli's The Birth of Venus. Perhaps, but not terribly likely, even with the sorts of time they are talking about.

So now I ask myself, how does it affect what we know now if this self-portrait assertion is true? Other than being a terribly interesting fact about a long dead animal, I can't really think of any way this changes our reality . We have already established that octopus are pretty smart without assessing their skills of an artist. The real question, for me, is whether or not I want to live in a world where horrific sea creatures in some dark past would devour other monstrosities and decorate their lairs with the remains.

Yes. Yes I do.


  1. What? These people are crazy. Or, likely, joking, science humour can be pretty weird.

    Anyway, their kraken hypothesis fails the very basic test of "parsimony", ie. the simplest possible explanation that fits the facts. I'd say that a better hypothesis is "the bones were arranged that way by some inanimate process of sedimentation and fossilization, or the decay of the bodies". Not nearly as fun, of course.