Mating Rituals of the Many Armed Mollusca - The Day Octopus

Photo Basil Bohn
15 meters down below the TRACC jetty a coquettish female day octopus waits. She is curled into the crevice of a tire with wide doe eyes and domed head peaking above the tire rim. About 4 meters away her male counterpart shyly waits by a patch of coral, peaking his head towards her in a cautious manner, seemingly unsure of how to approach his waiting mate. His caution is justified; sometimes his bigger stronger hungrier counterpart will consume her mate in a cannibalistic fashion. Yet, soon his courage blooms and he sidles towards the tire and his halfway hidden mate in a distinguished waltz. As he dances over he flashes the fanciest of his colors in swaying patterns of black tie octopus attire. Upon arrival, he seemingly scopes out the scene - perhaps he is assessing the potential danger of his promiscuous urges? He crafts his body into the physiology of a pyramid and peeks over the rim, as if asking if he is allowed to enter the domain of his soon to be mate, before gliding over the barrier of the tire to cautiously position himself opposite of her, equally hidden in the tires empty inner crevice.

This manly day octopus is semi-prepared for the potential danger of his procreative urge, he is equipped with an extra long reproductive arm called the hectocotylus complete with sperm packet attached to the tip. Once, twice, three times, in a gesture of gentlemanly grace he cautiously offers his hectocotylus and then withdraws. Still, his mate waits upon his advances, sometimes in a flirtatious or perhaps predatory manner she gently sways and shows the inside of her tentacle arms.

In a final chivalrous procreant gesture and gift, he rolls his hectocotylus around the inside of the empty tire tube to touch his female equivalent. To complete the act he must carefully and cautiously insert this tentacle into the most intimate of places in his mate – through the siphon behind her eyes and into the ovaries located at the tip or her head. It appears as an intimate hand holding between two mollusced lovers shyly meeting for the first time. Yet, this seemingly intimate gesture is tarnished by the knowledge that this specialized reproductive arm; the hectocotylus is a means of evolutionary self-defense. The sex life of a male octopus is fraught with danger; get too close to a lady lover and maybe you’ll get eaten.


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