There’s “octomom,” a human female that gave birth to octuplets, and then there’s the eight-armed “octomom,” a cephalopod that did something no other species has been seeing doing. This octopus guarded her nest of eggs for more than four years, appearing to not leave for even a moment to get food.
Researchers from the University of Rhode Island and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute observed such a deep-sea mother brooding over her eggs for longer than any other known animal, calling it an “evolutionary balancing act between the benefits to the young octopuses of having plenty of time to develop within their eggs, and their mother’s ability to survive for years with little or no food.”
“This research demonstrates how little we know about life in the deep-sea and life generally,” Brad Seibel, a biological sciences professor at the university, said in a statement. “From shallow-living species we have developed limited and limiting ideas about the capabilities of animals.”
Seibel previously speculated that the eggs of deep-sea octopuses took years to develop before they were ready to hatch, but he still said he found what they observed of this octopus “surprising.”
This specific octomom was found in May 2007 while Monterey Bay researchers were conducting a routine survey of deep-sea creatures Monterey Canyon off the coast of California. The team monitored this Graneledone boreopacifica 18 times for the next four-and-a-half years, according to the university news release. They witnessed her eggs getting larger and could even see the octopuses growing inside the eggs. They also saw the mother loosing weight and her skin color changing.
By October 2011, the octopus mother was gone from the site, her eggs were empty.
The university news release stated that it is not unusual for most female octopuses to die around the time their one and only set of eggs hatches. While this species brooded for years, the study authors wrote in their paper, published in the journal PLOS One this week, that most shallow-water species only have to guard their eggs for up to three months.
Watch this video that shows footage of the long-brooding octomom:
The team speculated that lower water temperatures at deeper depths might be associated with longer brooding times. The researchers believe that this longer brooding period though yields a more developed hatchling that has a higher chance of survival.
“The ultimate fate of a brooding female octopus is inevitably death, but in this first example from the deep sea, brooding also confers an extension of adult life that greatly exceeds most projections of cephalopod longevity,” the researchers wrote, according to the news release.