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Picture of the Day

The grim, final days of a mother octopus

A new study by neurobiologists at the University of Chicago used modern genetic sequencing tools to describe several distinct molecular signals produced by the optic gland after a female octopus reproduces. The study also detailed four separate phases of maternal behavior and linked them to these signals, suggesting how the optic gland controls a mother octopus' demise. Octopuses are semelparous animals, which means they reproduce once and then they die. After a female octopus lays a clutch of eggs, she quits eating and wastes away; by the time the eggs hatch, she dies. In the new study, researchers used the California two-spot octopuses (shown here) to study their odd maternal behaviors. The scientific jury is still out as to why these clever, resourceful creatures meet such an ignominious end, but there are several theories. Octopuses are serious cannibals, so a biologically programmed death spiral may be a way to keep mothers from eating their young. They can also grow pretty much indefinitely, so eliminating hungry adults keeps the octopus ecosystem from being dominated by a few massive, cranky, octopuses.

Visit Website | Image credit: Yan Wang/University of Chicago