In the 2002 documentary the future is wild, numerous biologists and other scientists speculated about the future evolution of various species.

In the '100 million years in the future' segment, the "swampus" was introduced. Swampuses are the evolution of modern octopuses, who adapted to shallow ponds and now live in swamps.

Octopuses are well known to be able to exist out of water, so an adaption to only sometimes submerged enviroments does not seem too unrealistic to me. Swampuses have a thicker, letherlike skin, protecting them from drying out too quickly. They have also have the ability to breath air, similar to lungfish.

Are the scenarios presented in the documentary realistic, and could partly land dwelling octopuses really develop in the next 100 million years? What nieche would they likely fill?

Btw: The documentary is available on youtube, the swampus can be seen at 39:20.


2 Answers 2


Yes. An awful lot of evolution is possible in 100 million years.

Consider your question in the context of it being asked slightly differently by an intelligent alien visiting Earth 100 million years ago. At that time there existed a family of small, unintelligent, timid pre-rodents called multituberculata, the last common ancestor of mice and humans. Your visiting alien finds one and asks, "could these develop into intelligent spacefaring bipeds who dominate the planet in 100 million years?"

The answer is obviously "yes" because that's what happened. But if you took a parallel universe machine and re-ran the history of the Earth over and over again from that starting point 100 million years ago, is it likely that that's where evolution would have gone by the present? Probably not. It could be really unlikely that's where evolution would go over those 100 million years. But the anthropomorphic principle applies: we're in the universe where it did happen, so we're here observing that it did happen, so of course it doesn't seem very unlikely to us.

Evolution isn't a nice linear process where we can look at an octopus and say that's where it's heading in 1, 10, 100 million years. It's mainly driven by extinctions: whatever favours the diversification of octopuses probably simultaneously made a lot of the competitors for niches they might fill extinct. Allow a good mass extinction or two in your 100 million years and if octopus-descendants survive who knows how their descendants would adapt. If they adapt to breathing oxygen there's a fairly immediate fit into a sort of predatory amphibian niche living in swamps but over that length of time you could see fundamental changes with entire limb functions changing like the development of wings in early birds, changes in skin type and so on. Octopuses today are very likely more intelligent than the primitive euarchontoglieres that were the last common ancestor of mice and humans 100 million years ago, so in another 100 million years who's to say they wouldn't evolve into land-dwelling, air-breathing sapients capable of similar feats to modern humans?

A version of the anthropomorphic principle applies to evolution in your world building: even if it's a very low probability evolutionary path, if you want it to have happened then it did, because the world where it did is the one where you as the author choose to set your story.

  • $\begingroup$ I just want to mention two things; first - there is an opposition to anthropomorphic principle (and I am among them), evolution might be much less random and all aliens might be humanoids. Second - evolution always go forwad, and mollusc times has passed eons ego. It's more likely for fishes to "reevolve" to amphibians and etc. than for octopuses (wich are the most complex mollusc can be) to "reinvent" what already was "invented" by insects and/or fishes. $\endgroup$
    – ksbes
    Jan 21, 2020 at 12:53

I would say it is unrealistic: they are too good pray and too bad hunters on a land.

Everything thay would eat is faster then they are (on a land) and thay do need some defencive mechanism (poision, camuflage) against more agile animals. We have species with this properties now - snakes.

So octpuses would occupy snake niche, but here comes anothe trouble. Mollusc can protect themselfs from air (even from dry hot air), but they cannot protect themselfs against direct sunlight. They have no means to cool down and just cook alife in a minutes (I keep giant african snails at home - that is a problem).

So to be plausable this conditions should be met:

  • wast cloudy, foggy but still warm region, preferably inside some crater at middle or high lattitudes or some cave system. There should be some places (even small ones) where sun never shine.
  • no snakes (they would not give up their niche for some "khtulhu" invaders)
  • octopuses should be highly toxic (like blue-ringed octopus) and continue to be ambush hunters
  • shallow periodicaly driyng swamps/lakes or bays with long tide region (current record is about 20km)

And things should keep that way for hundreds of millions of years. It is very unlikely to happen, but still can.

  • $\begingroup$ what do you think about mangrove forests for this region? these also have salt water $\endgroup$
    – Qoray
    Jan 21, 2020 at 11:24
  • $\begingroup$ @JonathanBöcker, mangrove forests is too good. There should be a reason for octopuses to leave water. "Original" swampus had this as an escape from predator, but this is not how it works (unless predator throws themout of the water). If somehow all the food in the water disapere and octopuses were to start hunting things near water. In that unplausable scenario mangrove forests are as good as anything else. $\endgroup$
    – ksbes
    Jan 21, 2020 at 12:41

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