The Longest-Living Octopus Broods for 53 Months, Then Dies
by Owen James Burke
This female octopus, pictured in 2007 nearly a mile deep in Monterey Bay, was then 7 months into her 53-month long job of protecting her eggs. (Photo: MBARI)
In 2007, a team of research biologists in a submerisble led by Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) Senior Scientist Bruce Robison found a deep-sea octopus, (Graneledone boreopacifica) clinging to a ledge at the bottom of Monterey Bay, about 4,500 feet down.
The team continued to visit the site roughly every few months, finding the same octopus (she was easily identifiable by her scarring) guarding the same eggs. Each time they went down, the researchers recorded the development of the eggs and the mother’s deterioration in the 37-degree-Fahrenheit water. Starving and fatiguing her way to death, she remained there for nearly five years. Did you think your mom went through hell putting up with you?
53 months and 17 visits later, the team made its last return in October 2011 to find the mother gone and the eggs hatched. The study was published this week in the Academic Journal PLOS ONE. Herein, this octopus easily lays claim to being the longest lived cephalopod–a group which includes squid, cuttlefish, octopus and nautiluses–as most others only live between one and two years.
The 160 egg casings left behind by the mother and her hatchlings (Photo: MBARI)
The G. boreopacifica, it turns out, also hatches in a more fully developed state than any other known octopus, which would make sense considering the incubation period. This is believed to be due in part to the long gestation period, but also to the fact that this species lays eggs in the hundreds and not the thousands (see the Giant Pacific Octopus).
As a general rule, octopuses don’t leave their nests once their eggs have been laid (at which point they die). They also don’t really eat (though she may have eaten some small crabs in defense of her eggs, judging by carcasses found nearby). The researchers tried to offer her crab, but she showed no interest. They just wait until they can die guilt-free more or less, and biologist Jim Cosgrove could be no closer to the truth when he says “No mother could give more.”
*The alpine salamander was previously believed to undergo the longest gestation period for any known living animal, about 48 months.