Your adversary has eight arms, three hearts, blue blood and a brain proportionate to those of parrots with hundred-word vocabularies. Three-fifths of its neurons are distributed along its appendages, which sense the world through suction cups. The creature is colorblind, but it makes intentional decisions to alter its own color, shape and texture within one-tenth of a second.

Fellow invertebrates are powerless against it. A four-foot wide specimen can morph through a hole the size of a quarter. It punctures crustacean shells with a scissors-like beak and injects lethal salivary neurotoxin into its quarry. And yet, unlike the overwhelming majority of mollusks, the skittish predator has no protective carapace of its own. Danger lurks everywhere — dolphins, sharks, sea lions. Its survival hinges upon stealth, agility, speed and disorienting clouds of ink as it bolts from danger.

Without leaving behind so much as a single ancestral signature in Earth's sediment, it's almost as if the boneless octopus materialized on Earth intact. In fact, says marine biologist Noam Josef, "While there are no fossils, I can tell you it's somewhere at the beginning of the tree of life."

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