NOAA researcher Mike Vecchione was left scratching his head after a cirrate (or 'dumbo') octopus was recently spotted displaying a peculiar arm-curling posture in the Gulf of Mexico.

The octopus, which belongs to the genus Grimpoteuthus (I challenge you to find a more badass Latin name), was captured on video at approximately two thousand metres (6,561 feet) by one of the Okeanos Explorer's remotely operated vehicles (ROVs).

"He’s a little upset with the ROV," Vecchione said jokingly. "But I've never seen them curl their arms up like that – this is a really different posture from what you usually see".

dumbo octopus_okeanos_8_5_2014
The Okeanos Explorer Image: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Since the ship was commissioned in 2008, the Okeanos Explorer has traveled the globe, exploring the Indonesian Coral Triangle Region, benthic environments in the Galápagos, the hydrothermal vent systems of the Mid-Cayman Rise, and most recently deep-sea habitats in the Gulf of Mexico.

Vecchione, who specialises in the diversity of deep-sea nekton (the large, active swimming animals), particularly octopuses and their relatives, has seen countless images and videos of 'dumbos' displaying a variety of arm postures … none of which resemble the spiral curling.

"They sometimes swim using their two fins, but they also swim by pulsing," he said. "There is a webbing between the arms, so when they swim this way it [looks] much like what a jellyfish does … both of these methods are more efficient than the jet propulsion we see in most octopods."

For a genus inhabiting waters as deep as five thousand metres (16,404 feet), where food is a rare commodity, being efficient with your energy use means staying alive. The diverse array of adaptations to life in this harsh environment never ceases to amaze.

Image: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexio 2014 Expedition

"This is a good example of the fact that every time we get a chance to explore the deep-sea, we find something new and unexpected." 

If any Grimpoteuthus experts out there have any insight into this odd behavior, we would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Top header image: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Gulf of Mexico 2014 Expedition