Female Octopus Protects Her Eggs For More Than 4 Years

Scientist watches female octopus brood her eggs during 18 visits over four years.

An Octopus in the Monterey Submarine Canyon protected her eggs for more than four years. Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

A scientist studying the ecology of the Monterey Submarine Canyon off the coast of Monterey Bay, Calif. happened upon a female octopus (Graneledone boreopacifica) that was moving about 4,600 feet beneath the surface of the ocean on the floor toward a rocky outcrop. He noted her skin patterns and moved on.

A month later and equipped with a remote operating vehicle, or ROV, that scientist Bruce Robison with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute decided to document the octopus laying their eggs when he found the same octopus he saw the month prior guarding her eggs.

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An Octopus in the Monterey Submarine Canyon protected her eggs for more than four years.

“This was a chance to watch the whole brooding process,” Robison told SFGate. “It was a fluke. No one before ever had a chance to see anything like it, so it was kind of bootleg science, but we decided to watch her again and again.”

And over the course of the next four years, that is right, four years, and via 18 visits with the ROV, Robison kept tabs on the mother octopus as she guarded her eggs. Robison and his team of scientists  kept intimate details of the octopus, measured her with lasers, and noticed with each successive visit her eggs getting larger. Every time the ROV went down to document the octopus, she was on the rocky outcrop guarding her eggs from any intruders. They watched as the baby octopus became visible within the eggs and watched as the mother would sweep away any debris, oxygenating the eggs in the process as she swept her tentacles over the nest. Over the course of four years, they watched as the mother octopus began to age, her mantle turning white from its normally pale purple and her eyes turning milky. And then one day, she was gone, her brood, all 160 of them seemingly hatched and gone off into the deep blue.

It is seemingly a new record for any brooding animal, previously held by the frilled shark, which broods for more thank 3.5 years. The longest brooding land animal on record is the black baltic salamander, which broods for 2.5 years.

The full paper is available on the PLOS One website.

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