The Real Octopus Mother

Happy Mother’s day to all you motherly identifying caregivers out there!  I’m dedicating this post on one of my favorite marine animals to my own mother who is a huge support in my blog writing.  She takes the time to read all my articles before posting them to not only spell check, but also make sure my babbling is understandable.  Thanks mom!

My mom and I
My Mother and me in 2020 while hiking

In nature, mothers can range all over the place.  Some moms never see their babies, some take care of their babies for a long time, some moms will have one baby at a time, some moms will have many babies at one time…  Octopus mothers unfortunately rarely get to see their babies.  However, they work very hard so that their babies can hatch and have a life of their own.  Once a male octopus reaches sexual maturity he will mate with many females.  After the male mates with these females though, he will stop eating and slowly die over the next few months.  This process leading to death is called senescence.  The male octopus does not contribute to the eggs/babies in any way other than mating. Females only mate one time and then they also stop eating and go through their own senescence (when they stop eating and slowly deteriorate and die).  Before a female dies though, she will lay eggs and literally guard them with her life. 

Many will say that octopus eggs look like grains of rice attached to rocks by a short sting (the string being around ⅛ inch or 3 millimeters long).  I personally think they look more like small tapioca balls instead or rice though.  I used to be an education guide at an aquarium. One of my favorite areas to volunteer was by our Giant Pacific Octopi (Enteroctopus dofleini). One of the octopi had eggs and it was a lot of fun pointing them out and talking about the eggs and the mother with Aquarium guests.  Unfortunately I never thought to take a picture of the eggs for all of you!

Giant Pacific Octopus clinging to the glass
Giant Pacific Octopus (E. dofleini) at an aquarium.
Giant Pacific Octopus (E. dofleini) at a different aquarium.

After reproduction a mother octopus will find a safe hiding place to make a nest.  She will then lay a few thousand eggs.  Giant Pacific octopus lay around 50,000 eggs (1). After reproducing, the mother will never leave her nest of eggs for the entire time they are incubating.  As a result, she will also stop eating. 

The amount of time that it takes a baby octopus to hatch depends on the species of octopus and the temperature of the water.  Colder water can slow development and warmer water can speed it up (for most living things).  Giant Pacific Octopus hatching can range from 5 months to one year (1).  The Two-Spotted Octopus (Octopus bimaculatus) can take 5 to 7 months to hatch (2). The Deep-Sea Octopus (Graneledone boreopacifica) has the longest known time before hatching at 53 months (3).  This is over 4 years! This is likely because deeper water is colder and colder water means that development takes longer.

Courtney with a juvenile two-spotted octopus in the tidepools in the Pacific North West.
This is a juvenile Two-Spotted Octopus (O. bimaculatus) that I found in a tidepool in the Pacific North West in 2013. They do get bigger.

All octopus (as far as I am aware) have a tube that they can shoot water out of.  This tube is called a siphon.  This siphon is used to help the octopus swim for fast bursts.  The octopus shoots jets of water out of its body through the siphon.  This causes the octopus to move forward very quickly.  The octopus can even aim its siphon in different directions to help steer where it is going.  Kind of like a boat propeller.  So why am I sharing this with you here?  Because female octopi also use their siphon to blow water on their eggs (2).  This helps refresh the water around the eggs. Fresh oxygenated water helps the baby octopi stay healthy within the eggs while developing.

So in review, octopi are absolutely amazing mothers. They give their life so their babies can hatch.  They stop eating so that they can always be present to guard their eggs. Besides protecting the eggs, they will also keep the eggs healthy by blowing that fresh water over them.

Citations

  1. Hartis, C. (2011). “Enteroctopus dofleini” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Enteroctopus_dofleini/
  2. Hamilton, B. and L. Swope (2014). “Octopus bimaculatus” (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed in 2021 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Octopus_bimaculatus/
  3. Robison, B., B. Seibel, and J. Drazen (2014). Deep-Sea Octopus (Graneledone boreopacifica) Conducts the Longest-Known Egg-Brooding Period of Any Animal. PLOS ONE 9(7): e103437

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