Self-Cannibalism: Do Octopuses Eat Themselves?

do octopuses eat themselves

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Octopuses are super smart cephalopods that are capable of problem-solving, learning, and even planning for extreme weather.

These amazing creatures even contain venom, and some species are so powerful that they are able to take on sharks.

In this post, we answer a question that is widely asked when discussing Octopuses. Do Octopuses eat themselves?

Yes, Octopuses can and do eat themselves. They can suffer from autophagy, also known as self-cannibalization. This is caused by stress and leads to a virus/bacteria that takes a hold of the stressed Octopus.

Do Octopuses Really Eat Themselves?

Yes, Octopuses really do eat themselves. It’s an interesting behavior that is rarely seen in animals, but one that is present in many species of Octopus.

After all, these animals are cannibals. Octopuses are known to eat smaller Octopuses in the comfort of their own home.

They often prey on smaller Octopuses that are 4 – 5 times smaller than they are, and once dead will drag them back into their den where they start to feast on their tentacles.

Why Do Octopuses Eat Themselves?

So why do Octopuses eat themselves?

Well, there are two main reasons for this which I’ve outlined below;

Raising Young

The first reason some Octopuses eat themselves is to raise their young.

They go above and beyond what many mothers in the animal kingdom do and have an interesting strategy to give their young the best chance of survival.

Giant Octopuses mate only once within their lifetime, and then they die. After they breed they enter a rapid aging phase, which accelerates the natural process of aging.

This intensifies rapidly over a couple of months with female Octopuses even starving themselves to guard their clutch.

Females won’t leave their den, not even for a second. They can become so hungry that they even start to eat themselves to help them survive a little longer.

However, they do end up dying anyway, but make the ultimate sacrifice by staying with their young to protect and guard them, even at the cost of their own life.


Another reason Octopuses can sometimes eat themselves is due to a virus or bacteria that manages to take hold of a stressed Octopus.

This happens quite a lot with Octopuses that are kept as pets or in captivity, as often their living conditions are not great and they can become stressed.

Octopuses can bite off and then regrow a tentacle with no issues, providing that the infection is only in that one tentacle

Octopuses that are in captivity and are stressed, usually because of bad water quality rarely have this luxury, and the virus ultimately kills them off.

Whereas Octopuses in the wild can simply bite off an infected tentacle and it will grow back like new.

Once this behavior starts, it’s difficult to stop and can even pass on to other Octopuses that have come into contact with the infected Octopus and start to cause them to cannibalize themselves too.

Do Octopuses Feel Pain When Eating Themselves?

Octopuses feel pain just like you and me. They most certainly feel pain when eating themselves, whether that be due to an infection or stress.

When Octopuses lose their tentacles due to cannibalization, the point at which their limb was attached can be seen to pulse and wriggle, which suggests they are feeling pain whilst removing it.

In some parts of the world, Octopuses are eaten alive and can feel themselves being chopped up and cooked. Horrific, I know.

In an article published by Vice, they interviewed Jennifer Mather, PhD. who is an expert in the behavior of Octopus and Squid at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.

She states that there is no doubt Octopuses feel pain when being eaten alive. They are highly intelligent animals that have a nervous system that is much more distributed than ours.

Most of our human neurons are in our brains, whereas three-fifths of an octopus’s neurons are in its arms.

Not only do Octopuses feel pain, but they are capable of feeling emotions and can even remember where and when the pain was felt, and avoid situations that are similar.

There is absolutely no doubt that Octopuses feel pain, and although Jennifer is speaking of eating Octopuses alive, they also feel pain when suffering from autophagy.

Final Thoughts

So, do Octopuses eat themselves? Yes, usually when they are going through stress and catch a virus/bacteria which takes over them and start to cannibalize themselves.

However, they may also eat themselves when they are in their den protecting their young. Often females don’t eat for months and sometimes can eat themselves to stay alive longer.

Octopuses are fascinating animals that make the ultimate sacrifice for their young, protecting them and giving them the best chance of survival by giving their own life.

Hopefully, this post has been informative and you’ve learned something new today about how and why Octopuses eat themselves.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to stick around to learn more about Octopuses and other marine life.