Octopus Protects Eggs for 4.5 Years

A female octopus lays eggs once in her lifetime and dies soon after. But until the eggs hatch, she guards them fiercely, to the point of not eating. For one octopus in the Monterey Canyon of the Pacific Ocean, that meant a record-breaking four and half years of diligence! Researchers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute first observed this octopus in 2007, traveling to a brooding site. She was seen again 18 times over the next 53 months, always guarding her eggs. Bruce Robison of the institute said that they recognized it was the same octopus by her distinctive scars. In 2011, divers finally found the egg cases empty and the octopus mother gone.

The mother's devotion to her eggs may have been the final act of her life, Robison said, noting that the egg brooding period can occupy as much as the last quarter in the life of a female octopus.

She was never observed away from her egg clutch, he said, and probable never ate during her 53-month vigil.

"Everything we know suggests she probably didn't eat," Robison said.

Octopuses typically experience a single reproductive period after which they die.

The low temperature at the depth of the nest is suspected to be the reason the eggs took so long to hatch, and would also explain how the mother lived so long without food. The 53 months is now a world record for egg brooding, not just for octopuses, but for all animals. The previous record was 20 months for a red shrimp. -via Fortean Times

(Image credit: MBARI)

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