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Parental Patience: Octopus Watches Over Eggs for Four Years

Jul 30, 2014 03:48 PM EDT
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Parental Patience: Octopus Watches Over Eggs for Four Years
Researchers have recently discovered that not only does a species of deep sea octopus live the longest among all known cephalopods, it also has the longest developmental period for any known organisms - a whopping four years. And while those octopus juniors are taking their sweet time to hatch, mamma vigilantly watches over them for the WHOLE TIME.
(Photo : 2014 Robison et al./PLoS ONE 9(7): e103437.)

Researchers have recently discovered that not only does a species of deep sea octopus live the longest among all known cephalopods, it also has the longest developmental period for any known organisms - a whopping four years. And while those octopus juniors are taking their sweet time to hatch, mamma vigilantly watches over them for the WHOLE TIME.

According to a study recently published in the journal PLOS One, researchers stumbled upon this discovery back in 2007, when investigation leader Bruce Robinson was exploring the deep ocean off the coast of central California. At about 4,500 feet deep, Robinson spotted a octopus just preparing to settle down on a rock favored by brooding mothers.

"[We] realized that she had gone up and laid a clutch of eggs, it was very exciting," Robison told BBC News. "No-one had ever had the good fortune to come upon the beginning of a brooding period."

A month later, the same octopus was still there - easily identified by unique scaring. Robinson and his team returned to that spot 18 times over the next 53 months and were given the unique opportunity to record the incredibly slow growth of deep-sea octopus eggs as their vigilant mother protected them  with her body.

(Photo : Robison B, Seibel B, Drazen J (2014) Deep-Sea Octopus (Graneledone boreopacifica) Conducts the Longest-Known Egg-Brooding Period of Any Animal. PLoS ONE 9(7): e103437. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0103437)

According to National Geographic, at a certain point Robinson was convinced that the mother was soon to leave this world, her motionless body wasting away atop her precious young. The average lifespan for most shallow water cephalopods is only two years, and before this discovery, the longest developmental period for an octopus recorded was 14 months.

But soon, Robinson admitted, he kept finding himself shouting "holy sh*t! She's still there!"

"It got to be like a sports team we were rooting for," He told BBC. "We wanted her to survive and to succeed."

Finally, a whopping four years after the first sighting, this exceptionally patient mother was gone, and an estimated 150 fragile transparent octopus eggs lay broken open.

According to the study, during their visits, Robinson and his team identified the mother as a Graneledone boreopacifica, a deep-sea octopus with very little known about it.

Now, thanks to this research, we now know that the octopus can live for more than four year after reaching adulthood and takes a remarkably long time to hatch. That whole time, the protective mother does not eat.

Experts say that a fast of this length is possible in the deep sea. Metabolic rates drop in exceptionally cold temperatures, and lying motionless would use very little energy. Still, at the end of all this, Robinson suspects that the mother passes away, her lengthy task finally coming to completion.

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