Hot Tub Hatchery Speeds Up Octopus Births

hot tub hatchery speeds up octopus births.jpg Science

In an underwater spectacle defying their known solitary nature, thousands of octopuses have been discovered congregating at the bottom of the central Californian coast. This unexpected gathering, which scientists have charmingly dubbed an "octopus garden," was first discovered in 2018 by the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary researchers who, intrigued by the spectacle, embarked on a quest to uncover the mystery behind this unusual behavior.

The secret to this enigmatic gathering, it seems, lies in the warmth of an extinct underwater volcano. The octopuses, each approximately the size of a grapefruit, were found nestled over their eggs on rocks heated by water seeping from the seafloor. According to the study published Wednesday in Science Advances, this heated nesting location significantly accelerates the hatching process, reducing the time by more than half and thereby lessening the risk of the eggs becoming prey to snails, shrimp, and other predators.


Octopuses Nest in Heated Underwater "Hot Tubs" for Faster Hatching

In a remarkable finding that has left scientists astounded, thousands of pearl octopuses were discovered nesting at the bottom of the ocean off the central California coast, a behavior contrary to the species’ generally solitary lifestyle. The mystery behind this congregation has now been unraveled: the heat from an extinct underwater volcano’s base aids in faster egg hatching.

A Natural Hot Tub for Octopuses

As Janet Voight, an octopus biologist at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and co-author of the study, observed, there are clear benefits for these octopuses in staying in this natural "hot tub". The study, published in Science Advances, found that the heated nesting location halves the time for eggs to hatch, reducing their vulnerability to predators like snails and shrimp.

Discovery of the Octopus Garden

In 2018, researchers from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and other institutions stumbled upon this unique nesting site, humorously dubbed an "octopus garden". Nearly 6,000 octopuses, each about the size of a grapefruit, were seen guarding their eggs laid on rocks heated by water seeping up from the sea floor. The sighting was described as "completely incredible" by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine biologist Andrew DeVogelaere.

Insight into the Hatching Cycle

Researchers monitored the site for three years to understand the hatching cycle, documenting the developmental stage of eggs at 31 nests and the inevitable deaths of octopus moms. The eggs at this site hatch after approximately 21 months, significantly less than the four years or more required for other known deep-sea octopus eggs. Adi Khen, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, pointed out the unusual aspect of this phenomenon, as colder water typically slows down metabolism and embryonic development, extending life span in deep sea.

The Potential Widespread Importance of Octopus Gardens

Mike Vecchione, a zoologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, praised the researchers’ tenacity in gathering such detailed data about a remote location. He suggested that these octopus gardens may be widespread and significantly important in the deep sea, a realm about which we still have much to discover.

Takeaways

This discovery not only provides an insight into the fascinating behavior of octopuses, but also underscores the potential existence of similar phenomena in yet unexplored parts of the deep sea. It serves as a reminder that there is still an abundance of unknowns in our oceans, waiting to be discovered and understood. The study also highlights the innovative survival strategies adopted by species in response to their environment, offering us a glimpse into the intricate workings of nature.

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