The Oklahoma Octopus is a rumored tentacled monster that dwells in Lake Thunderbird, Lake Oolagah, Lake Tenkkiller, and supposedly other Oklahoma lakes, and is said to be responsible for several drowning deaths.
Eight Arms To Kill You by Rod Lott
(The Oklahoma Gazette Vol. XXIX No. 33)
Forget Bigfoot, Are giant Octopi eating swimmers of Oklahoma lakes?
For those seeking an escape from hectic city life, Lake Thunderbird - roughly 13 miles east of Norman - offers 6,000 acres of water just perfect for boating, skiing, fishing, swimming, and a horrific death at the tentacles of the giant, man-eating octopus.
Well, at least according to some...without hard evidence.
A new book, "Monster Spotter's Guide to North America", claims that several Oklahoma lakes are inhabited by carnivorous freshwater octopi, appearing reddish-brown with leathery skin and measuring more than 20 feet long.
"Lakes in Oklahoma rate high in instances of drowning. Some believe that drowning victims actually fall prey to the giant octopi living in the lakes." reads the entry, written by the book's author, Scott Francis, "Several of Oklahoma's lakes, including Lake Thunderbird, Lake Oolagah and Lake Tenkiller, are said to be home to these monstrous creatures that are thought to be responsible for dragging swimmers and fishermen to their watery deaths."
Reports and speculation run rampant online, as well, singling out Sooner State bodies of water as hotbeds of tentacled doom. But to those who live and work there, it's a different story.
"Not out here. And I've been here for 27 years." said Susan Hendon, manager of Lake Thunderbird State Park. "No one has ever (mentioned that) -I swim in this lake every weekend. I'm here, I live here -nothing."
At Lake Tenkiller in Vian, park manager Steve Williams said news of the killer octopus is news to him. "I've never heard of that." he said. "Nothing to my knowledge. You can hear just about anything at any time."
However, Williams noted, if such a thing were true, those who dive Lake Tenkiller would know about it.
"I'm sorry, that's the first time I've heard of that one." said one of those divers, Tim Knight, owner of dive shop Nautical Advertures in nearby Cookson. "No, I can't say that we have any giant freshwater octopus in Lake Tenkiller. We do have a few jellyfish. It's real common, especially in the fall. But octopus? No, we do not."
Knight said any reported giant octopus sighting can't be a case of mistaken identity from a chance jellyfish encounter, because the size disparity between the two aquatic creatures is simply too great.
The jellyfish we have are very small, and an octopus has to have eight tentacles." he said. 'The largest jellyfish I've seen was maybe the size of a golf ball."
"I don't know if the octopuses are giant. They're just reported giant. One of the things that makes me somewhat skeptical, of course, is that they're very easily obtainable in supermarkets nowadays." -Cryptozoologist, Loren Coleman
Francis, who works in sales and marketing in Cincinnati, contends his "Monster Spotter's Guide" is written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, but that it's entries -whether on Bigfoot, the Abominable Snowman or El Chupacabra - are based upon actual reports, regardless of their veracity.
"My dad used to tell all kinds of crazy stories - regional stories about local folklore and stuff like that. I was into monster stories and ghost stories." he said. "So this is kinda one thing I always wanted to write about."
Reports of giant freshwater octopi have been made in several states, but in his research, the Oklahoma ones struck Francis as especially peculiar.
"It's really weird like the Oklahoma stuff turning up, because, you know, you don't have an ocean right there." Francis said. "(There have) been like some instances where they actually swim inland and people have found them. There's an actual dementia they get sometimes (that causes them to swim where they shouldn't)"
As bizarre as that may sound, the "confused octopus" theory may hold water, according to Beau Fairchild, lead cold water biologist at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks.
"That's very possible, yeah. It could happen." said Fairchild, who is in charge of taking care of the aquarium's giant Pacific octopus. "Something like that is very feasible, as far as going upriver like that, but I don't know how long an octopus could go upriver and be breathing and taking in freshwater before it would die. I don't know what kind of limit it has, exactly."
But, as far as octopi living day to day in freshwater instead of saltwater, such a notion is "physiologically impossible." Fairchild said.
Francis said accounts of giant octopi seem to be tied to a historical trend of general folklore in the Midwestern United States about "tentacled monsters and other lake monster-kinda things.", such as giant catfish.
Those, however, actually exist. That doesn't mean that stories about the species are not prone to exaggeration, as witnessed by an online report at Cryptodominion, a site dedicated to mythical animals. "These fish are said to attack people from time to time. There are also said to be alligators and turtles the size of boats in (Lake Eufaula)."
"When this stuff turns up, it could be any number of serpentine things. There's all kinds of crazy myths out there." Francis said. "I'm not totally sure where the legends all come from."
"It's really weird like the Oklahoma stuff turning up, because, you know, you don't have an ocean right there." -Scott Francis, author of "Monster Spotter's Guide to North America"
You Octo Know Better
Loren Coleman has an idea as to the origin of the octopus legend. After all, it's his job.
As one of the world's leading cryptozoologists, the Portland, Maine-based Coleman researchers and investigates sightings and evidence of such rumored regional monsters. A regular fixture on Discovery Channel and History Channel documentaries, he's written scores of books on the subject, including "Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide to the Nation's Weirdest Wonders, Strangest Spots, and Creepiest Creatures." which was re-released this spring in paperback.
"I don't know if the octopuses are giant. They're just reported giant." he said. "One of the things that makes me somewhat skeptical, of course, is that they're very easily obtainable in supermarkets nowadays."
Coleman pointed to the 55-year-old tradition of octopi being thrown onto the ice rinks at Detroit Red Wings hockey games as proof of people having easy access to and doing foolish things with the sea animals.
"I'm just very suspicious. If you have a hockey team, plus college students, plus a lake, sometimes it just happens." he said. "I mean some of us all used to be bored college students. I understand there's a lot of funny things going on in Norman just to keep people occupied. I don't think it's malicious, I don't think it's dangerous, but I do think I would want to know, if any of these were caught alive."
If they were, Coleman said, he would have much more of an inclination to believe a breeding population were possible. But, he only hears of carcasses, conveniently thrown away before any verification can be made.
"If people were reporting these as large and attacking them, I'm only getting that level on a rumor level," he said. "A lot of lakes like Thunderbird, you wouldn't expect to have thriving populations of unique animals, so that makes me even more skeptical that it's a prank."
Coleman likened the octopus story to reports of alligators being spotted in Norman as early as 1901, and rampant in the Forties, when they were written up in scientific journals.
"Alligators weren't back in that range of being in Oklahoma back then. They were extremely out of place. You know, alligators could come back, but octopuses are not supposed to be there." he said. "There are no freshwater (octopi) in North America, if (Norman) were close to a coast, then that's kinda already explained (by the dementia theory)."
Back at the lakes, while Williams said he has "no idea" why someone intentionally would hatch such a story, Hendon said some people "just like to start rumors."
"I'm kinda divided." Coleman said. "I'd like to be open-minded to wondering how these things would show up there, but I also know that one of the easiest things for a lot of people almost anywhere in the country is to go to their local supermarket and get a squid or otopus for dinner."
And it's tall tales like that of the giant freshwater octopus that Francis finds himself attracted to most.
"The ones that locally crop up are the really interesting stories, because they're the ones handed down by word of mouth." he said. "I sort of choose to believe in these things, because it's fun. More than a scientific approach, I approach it more from a folklore stand-point. That's my main focus, rather than scrutinizing whether or not something is totally based on fact."
As he ends his book, "Did we ever find the monster? Well...that's not really the point of Monster Spotting. It's really about enjoying the search.
On a personal note, I am a resident of Oklahoma and have been to Lake Thunderbird, Lake Tenkiller, and Lake Eufaula. I have never heard of the supposed 'Oklahoma Octopus' until the piece above appeared in the local Gazette and I have never met anyone who has claimed to have seen the supposed beast or anyone who even knows anything more about it. I am extremely skeptical of the existence of a freshwater octopus. Octopi are shy, reclusive, saltwater creatures who are curious about man but do not view them as a food source. So, unfortunately I would have to say that the dreaded 'Oklahoma Octopus' is nothing but an extremely recent creation, a story not based in reality. Still, as a lover of folklore, it makes a damn good legend!