SAN FRANCISCO – Marine biologists studying wild octopuses have found a kinky and violent society of jealous murders, gender subterfuge and once-in-a-lifetime sex.
The new study by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, who journeyed off the coast of Indonesia found that wild octopuses are far from the shy, unromantic loners their captive brethren appear to be.
The scientists watched the Abdopus aculeatus octopus, which are the size of an orange, for several weeks and published their findings recently in the journal Marine Biology.
They witnessed picky, macho males carefully select a mate, then guard their newly domesticated digs so jealously that they would occasionally use their 8-to-10-inch tentacles to strangle a romantic rival to death.
The researchers also observed smaller "sneaker" male octopuses put on feminine airs, such as swimming girlishly near the bottom and keeping their male brown stripes hidden in order to win unsuspecting conquests.
And size does matter — but not how you'd think.
"If you're going to spend time guarding a female, you want to go for the biggest female you can find because she's going to produce more eggs," said UC Berkeley biologist Roy Caldwell, who co-wrote the study. "It's basically an investment strategy."
Shortly after the female gives birth, about a month after conception, both the mother and father die, researchers said.
"It's not the sex that leads to death," said Christine Huffard, the study's lead author. "It's just that octopuses produce offspring once during a very short lifespan of a year."