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Deep-sea octopus broods eggs for 4.5 years, sets new world record

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Thursday, July 31, 2014, 3:13 PM - It may be the ultimate act of motherly love: Scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) have observed a female octopus brooding over her eggs for a mind-boggling 4.5 years -- longer than any known animal on the planet.

The typical octopus has a life span of 1-2 years and during that time females usually only reproduce once, dying shortly after their eggs have hatched. 

In many cases the hatching process takes a couple of months -- but in the deep ocean, things are different. 

For the first time researchers have observed the incredibly long brooding process of graneledone boreopacifica, a species of deep-sea octopus.

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It has long been suspected that reproductive processes take longer in the deep ocean. This can provide young with a better chance of survival.

“The trade-off within the reproductive strategy of deep-living octopods is between the mother’s ability to endure a long brooding period and the competitiveness of her hatchlings. Graneledone boreopacifica produces hatchlings that are very highly developed, which gives them the advantage of a high potential for survival,” the study's authors say.

The octopus was observed about 1,400 metres below the surface in Monterey Bay.

Researchers continually visited the site over the years and were able to identify the octomom by the "telltale scars" on her arms.

The study began in May 2007 when she was discovered clinging to a rocky ledge above the floor of a canyon.

"As the years passed, her translucent eggs grew larger and the researchers could see young octopuses developing inside," MBARI writes in a press release.

"Over the same period, the female gradually lost weight and her skin became loose and pale. The researchers never saw the female leave her eggs or eat anything. She did not even show interest in small crabs and shrimp that crawled or swam by, as long as they did not bother her eggs."

The complete paper can be found online at PLOS One.


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