This Deep-Sea Octopus Mother Guards Her Eggs for 4.5 Years

Image: Ocean Networks Canada via Flickr

You don’t need to have eight arms to be a supermom, but maybe it helps.

Scientists trying to discern how long this deep-sea octopus broods its eggs were shocked — they went back 18 times, and every time it was still holding its unborn babies, for a total of 4.5 years. Yes, you read that right: 4.5 years.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

This has shattered every record in the animal kingdom. Before this study was published, the longest known brooding period for an octopus was 14 months, which is still a relatively long period of time compared to other creatures.

Magellan Plunder Fish guard their eggs for four or five months; Emperor Penguins brood for two months. Even live-bearing animals like elephants (20 to 21 months of gestation) don’t come close. For the octopus Graneledone boreopacific, those four-plus years represent one-quarter of its entire lifespan.

Image: PLOS/Creative Commons

This 4.5-year process is no picnic, either. Researchers believe that octopus mothers do not eat while they are caring for their young. Not eating for all those years doesn’t just make them grumpy, they also lose their color (from purple to pale) and skin texture, their eyes get cloudy, and their mantles get smaller. They’re able to survive because of their slow metabolism and the cold temperatures of the ocean floor.

Their reward for all this exhaustive work? The moms get to skip past all that teenage angst. The babies have been incubated for so long that when they emerge, they are practically adults and ready to make their own way in the deep-sea world.