Ultimate Sacrifice: Why Do Octopus Die After Mating?

why do octopus die after mating

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Octopuses are fascinating creatures, they’re extremely intelligent and are excellent at solving problems, getting themselves in and out of spaces and they even make the ultimate sacrifice after mating.

But why do Octopus die after mating? Well, in short, they starve themselves to death in order to give their young the best chance of survival.

These amazing marine animals are short lives, with the average life expectancy being only around two years old.

Octopuses are so smart that they have even been known to build established bonds with humans.

They are among the most highly evolved invertebrates and are considered by many scientists to be the most intelligent.

So then why do they die when they mate? Surely the young can survive on their own?

Let’s find out…

Do Octopuses Actually Die After Breeding?

Despite being some of the smartest animals on the planet, they live an incredibly short life span. With some species living for only 6 months.

The Giant Pacific Octopus lives on average 3 – 4 years, which makes it sort of like a Grandpa in the Octopus world.

But do Octpuses actually die after breeding? Yes, both male and female octopuses die shortly after breeding.

The male typically dies a couple of months after mating, the mating process triggers fast aging in males whilst the female lives long enough to lay the eggs and then also perishes.

Amazingly she won’t eat a thing for months in order to stay with her young and protect them from any hungry predators.

Why Do Octopuses Die After Mating?

The main reason Octopuses die after mating is that the Octopus has used up all of its energy to grow and survive, and then finally mate.

It’s a little like how a Salmon swims upstream to mate, but they don’t go back down later. The sad reality is that evolution simply didn’t give Octopuses a safe way to procreate.

Mating for many species can be quite risky, especially if the female is larger than the male. In the case of the Octopus, the female can be a whopping 40,000 times heavier than the male, which naturally makes mating difficult.

Sometimes female Octopus will even kill the male shortly after or during the mating process, mainly because it’s an easy meal for the female (or a snack depending on the size).

Another reason that females sometimes kill males is that females are often more aggressive, so getting up close and personal for too long can cause them to become feisty.

To try and protect themselves against the females, male Octopuses have grown a hectocotylus, which is essentially an extra tentacle that they use to impregnate the female.

The hectocotylus is a modified sex tentacle with a central groove that the male can fill up with packets of sperm called spermatophores.

The tip of the arm also has erectile tissue called ligula, just like that found on the end of a human penis.

This means that male Octopus can get erections and mate with the female from a distance, however sadly not even that works against an agitated female that is 40,000 times as large as you.

In some species of Octopus, a long hectocotylus detaches from the male Octopus altogether and will swim on its own until it reaches the female and impregnates her.

Here are the main reasons why octopuses die after mating:

Male Octopus

As mentioned earlier, mating causes the male Octopuses’ health to deteriorate rapidly, with them dying often weeks, sometimes days later.

When looked at from the perspective of evolution, their job is now done, so the aging process begins. The genitals of the male Octopus mature which also switches off the digestive gland.

From there the male will die of starvation, pretty grim, right?

Female Octopus

Females seem to have gotten the better end of the deal when it comes to the length of time they survive after mating.

Some female octopuses can live for months, or sometimes even years after mating. They lay eggs and protect them until the offspring hatch, but during the process, they still have to survive without food and often die during it.

Sadly this is the reality of the Octopus, mating isn’t something that enhances their life, and instead often ends it.

What If Males Don’t Mate?

So what would happen if the male didn’t have the opportunity to mate, or if somehow he was deprived of this opportunity, would he survive?

Yes, strangely enough, the male would go on to live a longer life if he did not mate. The sole purpose in the eyes of evolution for the male Octopus is to mate, and by him not doing so his life will continue to go on.

For example, the Giant Pacific Octopus we discussed earlier if he avoids mating he can live as long as 5 years old in the wild, which adds an extra 40% to his average life expectancy.

Some scientists did tests on male octopuses and found that when they removed the optic gland which activates mating and stops digestion and found that the Octopus started eating and growing which increased its lifespan.

Octopus Evolution Causing Death

As we’ve now established, Octopuses don’t have a great deal when it comes to mating and producing offspring.

But why is that?

Well, one possible reason could be to prevent overpopulation. Given that female Octopuses can have as many as up to 70,000 eggs, if there wasn’t a way for nature to deal with the population the entire ocean would be filled with Octopuses.

The Octopus has many amazing skills, from being able to camouflage itself, to being able to fit into extremely tight spaces. It’s really sad that they don’t get the opportunity to fully reach their potential before death.

But I guess that’s just how nature has it.

Final Thoughts

So why do Octopus die after mating? Well, from an evolutionary standpoint, it is because they have completed their goal and managed to procreate.

Once they have successfully mated the aging process rapidly speeds up and male Octopuses’ digestive gland switches off, which means they die of starvation.

The females get to live a little longer, often a few months in order to protect their eggs and ensure they survive. However, they too quickly reach the same fate as the males.

Octopuses can live a longer life if they do not mate, with some species of octopuses being able to live as long as 5 years.

This is the sad reality of life as an Octopus, they live for one purpose only and that is to mate, once the task is done they meet their fate.

Hopefully, this post has been insightful in learning why octopuses die after mating and you have learned a thing or two from this post.

Thanks for taking the time to learn about Octopus mating and feel free to stick around to learn more about these wonderful creatures.