The Oklahoma Octopus

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Naturally, 'octopus' is always the first thing everyone thinks of when the state of Oklahoma comes up. The two are inseparable, like a sucker on a fish tank. But, of all the octopuses* in Oklahoma that we could focus on, which one should we pick?

* SIDE NOTE on pluralization—octopi, octopuses, or octopodes?

The Oklahoma Octopus™

I'm talking THE Oklahoma Octopus.

Not all those other lesser-known ones that cover the state.

I'm sure you know to which one I'm referring. The one that's the size of a horse, reddish-brown leathery skin. The one that walks between lakes, stalking teenagers and pulling them down to watery deaths where they become a crunchy, juicy in the middle, cephalopod snack.

Cephalopods are incredibly intelligent, and a new meta-study shows they are sentient, along with mollusks and decapods. While they've been protected under various animal welfare acts for a while in different parts of the world, this new one says it's no longer okay to boil them alive (or eat them alive.) Apparently, if an animal is sentient, can feel pain, can experience joy or sadness, you should destroy its brain before chomping on it. Interesting conclusion.

For these types of creatures, aka cryptids, it's sometimes fun to try and trace the origin of the stories. Where did this giant freshwater alpha predator come from? Why does it eat teenagers? Which Native American tribes had legends about a massive man-eating octopus living in Oklahoma?

Continue reading to find out these things and more!

Now, I bet you were one of those lucky kids who learned to walk and then started using all the O's in your Alphabet Soup to spell out your favorite eight-legged cryptid. Me? I wasn't so lucky. I discovered the Oklahoma Octopus in the same way that many people come to know the terror of deep Oklahoma waters. I bought a laminated map of the USA off Amazon, stuck it on my wall, and then remembered to read it six months later.

A laminated map of the United States of America, showing the location of cryptids.
The US is teeming with cryptid life!

Like me, I'm sure you could definitely point to Oklahoma on a map without even thinking about it (and, of course, every other state, because of the incredible public education system in the USA.) But, for those who didn't have the everyday pleasure of experiencing public education here, I can help. It only takes three simple steps.

Step 1

Take a look at that map.

Step 2

Learn the United States compass that we natives use. Forget about all those confusing things like North, South, East, and West.

California is on the Left.

Florida and New York are on the Right.

Texas is Down. (That massive thing in the middle bottom.)

Canada is Up.

Step 3

See Texas? See that octopus hanging on top of Texas? That's Oklahoma. Now you know the secret all of us Americans use to find Oklahoma.

*** I use these exact instructions to impart cartographic skills to my non-US friends.

-

After getting this map from Amazon, I began researching the giant octopus on top of Texas. I'd never heard of it before, and I had to find out everything I could about it.

Internet Lore lays out the following Internet Facts:

  • There's a horse-sized octopus in some Oklahoma lakes.
  • It's red. Or brown.
  • It eats people.

Honestly, I had to take a few weeks off after discovering this treasure trove. It was a lot to take in, but I wasn't satisfied with only one complete set of encyclopedias' worth of information. I'm sure you're exhausted by now but bear with me here as I detail my journey to uncover the origin of Cthulhu's cousin.

Eyewitness Accounts & Photographic Evidence

The first thing I did was look for eyewitness accounts or photographs. I didn't find either of those, no matter how much digging I did. Not even a "my cousin's brother's mom's boyfriend was out fishing" or a single blurry photo. Nothing. No eyewitnesses.

Which Lakes Does it Inhabit?

My second step was to find the exact locations of the sightings. That was difficult, considering there were no sightings. I came across a lot of "it is said" or "legend has it," so let's go with that, for now.

It is said that the killer octopus lives in Tenkiller Ferry Lake. Also, legend has it that the octopus lives in Lake Thunderbird. I assumed only one octopus was terrorizing both lakes because I couldn't find anything saying two octopuses.

Going off that assumption...

Those two lakes are only about 170 miles apart (274 kilometers.) That's about a 60-hour walk for humans.

Did you know?
Americans spell it "kilometer" and everyone who actually uses this unit of measure, like Canada and the UK, spell it "kilometre."

It's a scientific fact that some species of octopus walk between pools of water—there's even video evidence of it. But, how fast do they walk? I couldn't find the land speed of a giant octopus anywhere except for Dungeons and Dragons monster stats, so I'm declaring D&D the authoritative source.

A Giant Octopus has a walking speed of 10 ft per turn.

170 miles is 897,600 feet.

That's 89,760 D&D turns.

Assuming the Giant Octopus uses all of its movement in its turn, and it's only traveling on land, and considering each round (1 turn per round) is about 6 seconds (D&D 5E rules)—it would take 538,560 seconds to walk between Tenkiller Ferry Lake and Lake Thunderbird.

That's about 150 hours. (Somebody please check my D&D math.)

Totally doable, especially if it moved at night and took cover in wet areas during the day. By the way, if it took the Dash action each turn, it could make it in half the time (I'm not accounting for levels of Exhaustion, of course.)

Now that we have established the logistics of moving a giant octopus between two lakes, let's move on to my other discoveries about this exotic creature.

Diet

Baby octopuses eat small things like copepods, larval crabs, and sea stars. Adult ones eat crabs, clams, snails, small fishes, and even other octopuses. None of those things live in Oklahoma lakes, but we already know that legend has it that the Oklahoma Octopus eats teenagers.

Photo of Tenkiller Lake
Tenkiller Lake.
In the summertime, these waters become a buffet filled to the brim with crunchy teenagers.
Photo by Jake Bowman on Unsplash

Lifespan

A regular octopus lives three to five years. Giant freshwater killer octopus? I'm not sure. I couldn't find anything on D&D for it, and I also couldn't find any way to calculate lifespan from D&D's Challenge Rating. If anyone knows how to do this, let me know. It is said that it's been stalking the lakes for decades, so you can use that as a cross-check on Challenge Rating to Lifespan math.

Also, there are no known species of freshwater octopus, so even if someone figures out that math, I don't know how to accommodate the freshwater-octopuses-don't-exist coefficient.

Origin

We know that this octopus lives in two lakes in Oklahoma. But, what is unique about those lakes? Well, first, there are no connecting inlets. Meaning, the octopus didn't move from the ocean to either of these lakes via water. From Tenkiller Ferry Lake, it's a straight shot of about 400 miles down to Houston and (644 km) to the nearest ocean. A very determined giant octopus who follows D&D 5E rules could probably do that, given enough time.

It is said that this octopus has been around for a very long time. According to many sources on the Internet, Native American legends simply overflow with stories of a giant octopus living in Oklahoma lakes going back at least hundreds of years. Never mind that both Tenkiller Ferry Lake and Lake Thunderbird are man-made and didn't exist until about the 1950s. And never mind the fact that those Native American legends of a giant octopus in Oklahoma lakes don't seem to exist.

There's also a huge problem when someone says "Native American legend" because the legends among tribes differ. Right now, there are 574 US federally recognized tribes. Thirty-eight of those are in Oklahoma. So, which "ancient Native American legend has it" about a giant killer octopus living in lakes created in the 1950s? There are cryptids with lore that name specific tribes, but not this one. What's happening here is a bit of hand-wavey legend obfuscation because if everything lacks specificity, there's no way to disprove it.

As a bit of an aside—when I try to track these legends down, I'll use the same terminology that people use to describe the legend, but I insert notes that I feel are important. Like this:

What is the correct terminology: American Indian, Indian, Native American, Indigenous, or Native?

All of these terms are acceptable. The consensus, however, is that whenever possible, Native people prefer to be called by their specific tribal name. In the United States, Native American has been widely used but is falling out of favor with some groups, and the terms American Indian or Indigenous American are preferred by many Native people. Native peoples often have individual preferences on how they would like to be addressed. When talking about Native groups or people, use the terminology the members of the community use to describe themselves collectively.


https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/faq/did-you-know

What stories can be found in Native American lore about octopuses?

Not a lot, but I did manage to find one—though it is a story that features humanoid creatures who have shapeshifted from animals—and not a giant killer octopus that eats people. But, if anyone reading this has more information, please send it my way.

So, if "legend has it" and "it is said" are wrong, then where did the story come from?

The most frequently cited source of information is a TV show called Lost Tapes that aired on Animal Planet from 2008-2010. Each episode features a cryptid or monster. It's done in a mockumentary/found-footage style, and each one is entirely fictional—they didn't use real stories from anyone. I watched the episode for the Oklahoma Octopus, and as you might guess, it's chock-full of unverified claims that contradict actual science, and it presents fiction as fact. Also, shaky camera work and screaming/sobbing "teenagers."

While reviewing the episode list for Lost Tapes, it became clear that they feature some very well-known and easily verifiable cryptids. Chupacabra, Bigfoot, Thunderbird, Mothman, and more generic ones like vampires, hellhounds, and lizardmen.

The Oklahoma Octopus is a strange, nearly unknown outlier in these big-name cryptids. Where did Lost Tapes get the story from? I tried contacting the show producers and story producers, but I haven't heard back yet.

I began digging into the phrase "Oklahoma Octopus" to find references that predated the show. I happened to know of a couple of tools for this.

Coast to Coast AM

If you're looking for information on a cryptid or really any strange phenomena, the Coast to Coast AM radio show is likely to have something. It's been running since 1988, and they constantly interview experts, witnesses, authors, and more about nearly any freaky thing you can imagine. Running searches on their articles and show archives turns up about 5,000 mentions of Bigfoot and 600 of vampires, but any combination of anything related to the Oklahoma Octopus nets precisely zero results.

Google Ngram Viewer

It's unlikely you are familiar with Ngram. The tool isn't exactly trending on Twitter or anything.

"The Google Ngram Viewer or Google Books Ngram Viewer is an online search engine that charts the frequencies of any set of search strings using a yearly count of n-grams found in sources printed between 1500 and 2019 in Google's text corpora in English, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Russian, or Spanish." — Wikipedia

Using Ngram, I searched for "Oklahoma Octopus" and compared it with "Bigfoot," "Mothman," and "vampire."

Take a look at the results.

Note that "Oklahoma Octopus" doesn't actually appear on the graph. That's because Ngram has precisely zero references to that phrase in its entire database of books. That's not to say there are no books with that phrase, only that Google hasn't indexed them. However, based on the results, I think it's fair to say that the Oklahoma Octopus is entirely unknown—especially compared to any other cryptid you might plug into Ngram.

Usenet Archives

There are searchable Usenet Archives that go back to at least 1981. It's easy to find tens of thousands of posts about Bigfoot going back to the beginning of the archives.

Oklahoma Octopus?

The earliest mention is September 2008, only a few months before the Lost Tapes episode was released. There are only two posts about the Oklahoma Octopus, both from the same user. One is from September 2008 and another from January 2009, about a week after the episode was released.

The first post name drops a lot of well-known lake monsters and then mixes in the Oklahoma Octopus at the end. The sources linked at the bottom don't mention the Oklahoma Octopus.

The second post is just a link to a page that I found on the Wayback Machine that is essentially about the Lost Tapes episode (it even cites the Lost Tapes episode as the source of information.) It mentions a book published in 2007 that has a story about a man-eating octopus in Lake Thunderbird. The book Monster Spotter's Guide to North America by Scott Francis, published in 2007.

Now, we're getting somewhere! Finally, something older than the Lost Tapes episode!

Some searching turned up that in 2007, Rod Lott of the Oklahoma Gazette asked people who lived around the lakes if they knew of the giant octopus. The book had recently been released, and inquiring minds wanted to know if residents were familiar with the Oklahoma Octopus featured in it.

"Are giant octopi eating swimmers of Oklahoma lakes?"

Photo of lettering that says "nope." Photo by https://unsplash.com/@herrond
Spoiler: No. They'd never heard of it.

Where do you go from here?

I actually own Monster Spotter's Guide to North America, and it's a great book. The illustrator created some fantastic drawings of a lot of the creatures. There are hundreds of monsters in it, and each has about a one-page entry overview. Scott did an excellent job on it, and the format of it reminds me of a book I used to have on birdwatching. He doesn't really claim anything about any of the monsters in it. For the Oklahoma Octopus entry and—this is where tracking the origin gets even more interesting—he only wrote about three sentences. And, more importantly, he never actually calls it the "Oklahoma Octopus." It's called "The Giant Freshwater Octopus," and he just describes that lakes in Oklahoma have a high rate of instances of drowning. Interestingly, in addition to Lake Thunderbird and Tenkiller, he mentions Lake Oologah. He says it has reddish-brown leather skin and is over twenty feet long.

That's it. There is no mention of Native American legends, teenager snacks, or how long the octopus(es) has been terrorizing the locals. This means, of course, all those "it is said" and "legend has it" came from somewhere else.

I tracked down the author of the 2007 book, Scott Francis. I also tracked down the illustrator of the book. I wrote to both of them, but I haven't heard back from either yet. If I do, I'll be sure and post an update. Just to be clear, I want to know if either of them remembers where they first heard about the octopus. If they do, then perhaps I can find another trail to follow. At this point, I have no reason to believe that Scott Francis invented this legend, but if he did, then he should be recognized for pulling one amazing dupe that ended up turning into an episode on Animal Planet. I'd be very impressed.

In Scott Francis's book, he references another, an older book by Loren Coleman from 2003 titled Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. It turns out, Loren Coleman was involved in the production of the show Lost Tapes. He's also a bit of a controversial figure. I really don't know enough about him to form an opinion on that, but, to Loren Coleman's credit, there's only one mention of Oklahoma in his book, and it's buried in a list of 1,000 sea monsters. It's not even about an octopus; it just mentions Lake Eufala, which, upon further research, seems to be a sighting from 1973 by two brothers of a creature similar to the Loch Ness monster. And that's where the trail goes cold. The references go into a loop, an echo chamber, a self-referential puzzle that feels like being stuck in a mirror maze at the carnival.

Loren's website has archives of articles about creatures, but none of them mention an octopus. He has written several other books, and I haven't read them all. But I did pick up a copy of Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature published in 1999 to see what secrets it may hold. There are 19 mentions of the word "octopus" in the book. None have anything to do with Oklahoma, though.

Photo of an uhappy plushie octopus toy. Photo by https://unsplash.com/@mahdibafande
I found this stock photo titled "red and white bear plush."
So, it seems cephalopods have quite a bit of work to do.

One other theory I found is that someone in Oklahoma was jealous of fisherman John Mazurek, who caught an octopus in Lake Conway, Arkansas, in 2003. So jealous that they invented their own story but made the octopus way bigger and deadlier. The octopus John Mazurek caught was normal-sized and likely kept in an aquarium and then dumped into the lake for some reason.

Ultimately, this is the problem with cryptids. We just don't know. New species are discovered all the time, including in areas we know pretty well. That even extends to the human body. You'd think we would know everything about anatomy by now or at least have a complete catalog of bones and muscles. Nope. A muscle in the jaw was discovered in 2021.

If anyone reading this knows anything about the Oklahoma Octopus, get in touch—I'd love to hear about it and revisit this cryptid. Or, if your name is Scott Francis and you wrote Monster Spotter's Guide to North America, I'd love to find out where you originally heard about a giant octopus in Oklahoma and then continue with my hunt for the origin of the legend.

By the way, if you ever want to check out shows about monsters living in water and want to skip the mockumentaries featuring screaming "teenagers," then you will want to watch anything from Jeremy Wade.

Photo of Jeremy Wade
Photo of Jeremy Wade, being awesome.
Taken by David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

He's one seriously awesome person and really knows his stuff. Really, try any episode of any of these: