Evidently, determining whether an octopus is a male or female is hard to even those whose career revolves around these interesting creatures. In 2018, when this male octopus had babies at the University of Georgia Marine Education Center and Aquarium, the curators were surprised, to say the least.
‘Male’ Octopus Has Babies
When the aquarium received what they thought was a male octopus, they named him Octavius and put him in his very own tank. In the beginning, he was very social and highly curious about the visitors who came to see him. Without explanation, however, Octavius’ social behavior inexplicably vanished, and he began spending most of his day hiding in a cave. (1)
Finally one day near the end of October, the aquarium learned why. When curator Devin Dumont went to clean Octavius’ tank, he found a cloud of tiny particles floating in the water. Octavius had given birth to thousands of babies, meaning of course, Octavius was female. (1)
“I noticed this cloud of moving dots and I realized, ‘Oh my God, she had babies. There are babies. There are babies everywhere,'” Dumont recalls. (1)
He scooped them all out of the tank into different buckets to be taken care of by the rest of the staff, all while knowing what this means for their new octopus. (1)
The Beginning of the End
Whether an octopus is male or female, their whole life begins and ends with procreation. For males, the end is shortly after mating – they die shortly after mating with a female. A female’s life, however, is extended a bit further. (2)
Female octopi have the ability to store semen for weeks after mating so that they can lay their eggs in optimal conditions. In Octavius’ case, she most likely was already pregnant when she arrived at the aquarium and waited until she felt comfortable to finally give birth. (2)
Once she has laid her eggs, female octopi care for their eggs like no other. She entirely forgoes eating to spend all of her time protecting her eggs from predators and blowing currents across her eggs to keep them clean. Depending on the species, this can be anywhere from two to 10 months. (2)
By the time the eggs hatch and go about their lives, their mother has all but wasted away completely. At that point, she dies. (2)
The exact gestation period for many octopi is still unknown. In the spring of 2007, researchers observed a female octopus that guarded her babies for a full 53 months before they hatched, setting a record for the longest-known brooding period for any animal, ever. (3)
What’s Next for Octavius’ Babies
Octavius’ babies will be dispersed in three main areas, including, the local Skidaway River, Nursery tanks, and the shellfish research lab near the aquarium
Many of Octavius’ offspring will be helpful to help learn more about these strange and mysterious creatures so that more can be done to help protect and preserve them in the future.