Study sheds light on octopus sex

Far from being the loners marine biologists had categorised them as for decades, octopuses are pretty lascivious, study reveals

The charge of wandering hands - or tentacles - is a bit unfair to level at an octopus, given that the mollusc has eight to control.

But scientists have discovered that, far from being the loners marine biologists had categorised them as for decades, octopuses are pretty lascivious.

The Marine Biology journal has published research by scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, which found Abdopus aculeatus practise sexual habits that amount to "more than just arm-wrestling".

The octopuses, found off the coast of Indonesia, didn't just mate with the first female that crossed their path but picked out a specific sex partner and guarded her den for several days, strangling rivals if they got too close.

In an attempt to get near to the females, male Abdopus aculeatus swim in an "unmanly fashion" - low on the ground - and hide their brown stripes to gain access to a partner's den.

Similarly predatory behaviour in human mating has been called "sharking", in reference to the habits of the sharp-toothed sea creature. Now it may have to be renamed "octing".

"This is not a unique species of octopus, which suggests others behave in this way," Roy Caldwell, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study, told his university's newsletter.

There are nearly 300 species of octopuses in the world, ranging from the giant octopus in the Pacific ocean to the tiny Octopus wolfi in the tropics.

The scientists discovered that octopus mating can take place several times a day once the creatures reach sexual maturity.

It usually begins with the male octopus poking the female with his long, flexible, hectocotylus arm and then slipping it into her mantle cavity.

Once the sperm packet has been deposited, the female retires to her den and lays tens of thousands of eggs, which she weaves into strings and attaches to the roof of her underwater dwelling. She keeps the eggs clean by blowing jets of water on them and is unable to leave her den to forage for food during this time.

After about a month, the eggs hatch and the weakened mother octopus dies. The father also dies within a few months of mating, leaving the newborns to fend for themselves.

Octopuses are typically thought to be bashful sea creatures. "They're obsessively secretive, solitary and pretty spooky," Caldwell said. "If you watch them, they watch you back. It's hard to study them. This is the first study to show a level of sophistication not previously known in the sexual behaviour of an octopus."


Allegra Stratton

The GuardianTramp

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