Octopus Guarded Eggs 4.5 Years Before They Hatched, Then Died

Thursday, 31 Jul 2014 12:19 PM

By Nick Sanchez

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An octopus in the Pacific was observed guarding its eggs for 4.5 years without interruption, profoundly altering scientists' previous notions about brooding times across the animal kingdom.

"This is the longest brooding or gestation of any animal on the planet," said Brad Seibel, an animal physiologist at the University of Rhode Island, according to The Los Angeles Times. In total, the mother octopus was observed brooding over her eggs for 53 months.

"Elephants gestate for 20 to 21 months and some deep sea sharks carry their embryos around internally for a couple of years, but nothing is longer than this."

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The discovery was made by researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Northern California after they came upon a female "Graneledone boreopacifica" octopus who had just laid her eggs less than a month before. They checked in on her from month to month, watching as she never strayed from above her eggs, and checking to make sure she hadn't hatch a new batch.

Over the 4.5 years, she didn't eat, and became visibly shrunken and tattered. Then, shortly after the eggs hatched, she died.

With their observations complete, the team published a report on their findings on Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

Because the species is a deep-sea octopus, the scientists hypothesized that the mother-to-be guarded her eggs for such a great length of time to ensure that they developed as much as possible. That way, they would have a greater chance of surviving the especially dark and dangerous depths of the ocean.

Unlike more shallow-water species, who guard their eggs for 1 to 3 months, on average, the deep-sea species are also slower to develop due to their slower metabolic processes.

Moreover, octopi hatch a relatively small batch of eggs (roughly 150) compared to other marine life that lay thousands. The smaller batch means each offspring needs to be more developed in order for a significant segment of the litter to survive into adulthood.

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