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“Benthic shallow-water species are among the most studied and best understood octopods, and are, therefore, of high interest to researchers and fishers,” said Dr. Michael Amor from the Western Australian Museum and Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria and Dr. Anthony Hart from the Western Australian Fisheries and Marine Research Laboratory.
“This attention can lead to an improved understanding of species boundaries and distributions, including the potential identification of cryptic taxa.”
“Cryptic speciation is common among octopods and examples are prevalent throughout the order Octopoda.”
“Octopuses have few hard body parts or diagnostic taxonomic traits. Further, morphological plasticity that is linked to local environmental conditions and the limited utility of traditional molecular markers have compounded our likely underestimation of species richness among octopods.”
“Within Octopoda, perhaps the most iconic example of this phenomenon is observed among members of the Octopus vulgaris group,” they added.
“This species-group represents one of the greatest octopus fisheries targets, and are of broad scientific interest (e.g., cell biology, environmental science, fisheries research, neuroscience, physiology, robotics).”
The newly-discovered species is conspecific with another member of the Octopus vulgaris group — the common Sydney octopus (Octopus tetricus) from Australia’s east coast and New Zealand — but is morphologically and genetically distinct.
Named the star octopus (Octopus djinda), the marine creature is distributed along the southwest coast of Australia, from Shark Bay to Cape Le Grand.
“This distribution closely reflects the territory of the traditional custodians of this land, the Nyoongar people (‘a person of the southwest of Western Australia’),” the researchers said.
“To recognize their connection to this land, a Nyoongar translation of ‘star’ (djinda) was selected as a species name. This use of ‘star’ (luminous) reflects the shared recent ancestry with, and now-understood distinction from, Octopus tetricus.”
The new species is a medium to large octopus, with a mantle length of 10.9-17.7 cm (4.3-7 inches).
“Octopus djinda supports a highly productive fishery and is currently one of two octopod fisheries worldwide to have received sustainable certification from the Marine Stewardship Council,” the scientists said.
“Its taxonomic description provides formal recognition of the taxonomic status of southwest Australia’s common octopus, Octopus djinda, and facilitates appropriate fisheries catch reporting and management.”