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Published by Richard Ross

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Published by: Richard Ross on Jan 10, 2013
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he SF Bay Area is seeing a lot of hatching octopuses this year! The Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences, Roy Caldwells lab at UC Berkeley, and the Ross Lab in Alameda, California, havebeen working hard with several species of octopus and have managed to coax several females of differentspecies to brood eggs successfully through hatching. Reproduction in aquaria is always something to be enjoyed;there is nothing quite like the thrill of breeding an animal in our glass boxes. Hatching octopuses is particularly thrillingbecause not all octopus species are the same. Some octopuses, such as
Wunderpus photogenicus
(larvae shownabove), hatch in spurts over several days to be discovered only by the very observant. Others, like
Octopus vulgaris
hatch in an impossible to miss gush with thousands or even hundreds of thousands of tiny octopuses owing upwardfrom the egg mass towards the surface of the water. However, with the thrill, there is a twofold sadness that comeswith the discovery of octopus eggs in aquaria.
Wunderpus photogenicus.
Since most octopuses are semelparous and lay small eggs, thehatchling octopuses emerge from the eggs like many marine larvalsh: very small, very fragile, and very difcult to feed in the restrictedspace of land-based tanks. These hatchlings are referred to asparalarvae, and in the wild, drift as part of the zooplankton, eatingto their three hearts’ content until they metamorphose into properadult forms and settle out of the water column. In aquaria, however,we haven’t yet made the breakthroughs that will make raising thesetiny animals a universally successful endeavor.It is important and exciting to note that not all octopuses aresemelparous. Recent work from Steinhart, UCB, and the Ross Labshows that a few species, like
Octopus chierchiae
, are iteroparous,Most octopuses are semelparous, with females laying many smalleggs, caring for them as they develop, and then dying soon afterthe eggs hatch. The appearance of eggs often signals that the endof the aquarist’s time with the octopus is near, and it usually isn’tpretty. When octopuses (and other cephalopods) die of naturalcauses, their deaths are usually preceded by senescence, wherethe animal loses control of their limbs as well as any will to live, andtheir esh degrades. In some cases, scavenger animals like hermitcrabs begin to eat the octopus while it is still alive, and the octopusdoesn’t really do anything to stop it. In the case of a brooding femaleoctopus, it seems that at least the birth of new babies softens theblow of the loss of their mother. Unfortunately, this is only the rstsad part of discovering octopus eggs.

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