A female deep-sea octopus held her eggs in her arms for more than four years — eating virtually nothing and apparently dying after her brood hatched.
The octopus, known as a Graneledone boreopacifica, protected the eggs for 4½ years in the Monterey Submarine Canyon off the coast of California, Science magazine reports
Using a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute first spotted the octopus on a group of rocks with her eggs in 2007.
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The location was 1,397 meters, or nearly 4,600 feet, below the ocean's surface. The octopus' arms were curled around the eggs, estimated to number 155 to 165.
The scientists visited the area 18 times over the next 53 months, they said in a report in PLOS ONE
, the journal published by the Public Library of Science in San Francisco.
"Each time we returned we found the same octopus clinging to the vertical rock face, arms curled, covering her eggs," said the researchers, Bruce Robison, Brad Seibel, and Jeffrey Drazen. "Continuous growth of the eggs provided evidence that it was the same clutch throughout.
"At 53 months, it is by far the longest egg-brooding period ever reported for any animal species," they said.
The previous longest period was 14 months for another species in 1998, based on an analysis of laboratory specimens.
On each visit, the octopus never ate, the scientists noticed. She did not hunt for crabs or shrimp — pushing them away each time they got too close to her. The octopus didn't bite at the crab they dangled at her via one of the ROV's arms.
"She never left the eggs unattended," they said. "The female always remained centered over the clutch of eggs."
While octopuses are "believed to cease or to greatly reduce feeding when they brood" — they generally don't die after the eggs hatch — the lack of food took its toll in this case.
The octopus was a pale purple when scientists first spotted her, Science reports, but eventually she turned white — and "her mantle shrank, her skin slackened, and her eyes grew cloudy."
The scientists last saw the octopus in September 2011. The next month, however, she was gone.
"The rock face she had occupied held the tattered remnants of empty egg capsules," the scientists said, indicating that the eggs hatched successfully.
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