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Beautiful, rare octopus joins Animal Attraction exhibit

March 7, 2013

Larger Pacific Striped Octopus/photo by Rich Ross

One of the world’s most beautiful—and little-known—species of octopus is now on public display for the first time, right here at the Academy. Aquarium biologist Richard Ross has spent the last 13 months raising and studying the behavior of the species, which was initially discovered in 1991 but largely forgotten until now. He and Dr. Roy Caldwell of the University of California, Berkeley are still working on a formal description of the species, which doesn’t yet have a scientific name, but they didn’t want to wait any longer to share this spectacular animal known for its unusual mating habits and dramatic coloration with the public.

When it comes to mating and reproduction, the Larger Pacific Striped Octopus defies conventional octopus behavior in several surprising ways. Because female octopuses have a tendency to eat their mates, the animals usually live solitary lives—and when they do come together to mate, they typically try to stay as far away as possible from their mate’s mouth. However, pairs of Larger Pacific Striped Octopuses can live peacefully together in an aquarium, at times sharing a den, and they mate in an intimate beak-to-beak, or sucker-to-sucker, position. Additionally, unlike other octopus species in which the females tend to die after laying a clutch of eggs, these females can lay many clutches of eggs over the course of their lives.

This behavior has earned the animals a spot in our Animal Attraction aquarium gallery, where a female has already taken up residence, soon to be joined by a male. The display also includes an iPad exhibit label featuring video footage of their mating behavior, but lucky visitors may even witness the act first-hand. Ross plans to raise and study the paralarvae they produce to learn more about the animal’s life cycle and develop captive breeding protocols for the species, which is currently known from only a few locations off the coast of Nicaragua.

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