Why do fe­male oc­to­puses die af­ter re­pro­duc­ing?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Our Wild World -

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.

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