Why do female octopuses die after reproducing?
AWhile parents sacrifice much for their offspring, few routinely give up their lives. But such is the destiny of a female octopus: tending her eggs is the last thing she’ll do. In a gloriously tragic act of self-sacrifice, she stops eating and dies of starvation before the young hatch. She might even hasten her demise by actively ripping off parts of her own body.
These behaviours seem to be orchestrated by nervous impulses from something known as the ‘optic gland’. Removal of this gland increases an octopus’s lifespan considerably, so it’s clearly not a simple case of exhaustion. Instead, death seems to be preprogrammed. Octopuses have a cannibalistic streak, so death may be a way to prevent a female from feeding on her own hatchlings.
Mother octopuses never meet their babies, but that’s probably a good thing.