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The life of an octopus

Published November 03, 2010

Paul the Octopus, who captivated the world this summer with his accurate World Cup predictions, passed away last week at the age of 2 1/2. He was a resident of the Sea Life Aquarium in Germany. They reported that their beloved octopus died of natural causes. If you don't know anything about the life of an octopus, you must be wondering why he died of natural causes at just 2 1/2. Truth be told, the life span of a giant Pacific octopus is relatively short for such a large animal. They typically live to only 3 to 5 years of age, and don't live to see their offspring. Octopuses only reproduce once, and sadly, this event comes near the end of their life. After mating, the females lays up to 100,000 (often fewer) eggs and then stops eating. She remains with the eggs to protect them until they hatch, then she dies.  The male octopus also dies shortly after mating, but does not assist in protecting the eggs.

In such a short time, however, they grow an astonishing amount!  When an octopus hatches it is almost microscopic.  The young float in the water column. As plankton, they consume food and grow very quickly.  Within their first year they can grow to several pounds or more.  The size of a mature octopus often varies with each individual, but the largest recorded giant Pacific octopus weighed in at 156 pounds!

At the National Aquarium, we currently have two giant Pacific octopuses, Arya (approximately 35-pound female on exhibit) and Kraken (smaller, approximately 10-15-pound male in backup).  Arya came to us about a year ago and weighed just 5 pounds when she arrived!  She laid eggs in June and has exhibited a change in behavior consistent with senescence in females, although she is still eating off and on.  Kraken was also only about 5 pounds when he arrived in the spring.  His age is uncertain, as an octopus's size doesn't necessarily reflect its age.

Even though the life of an octopus is short, we do our best to keep them stimulated while they live here at the Aquarium. Did you know that their brain capacity is said to be similar to or somewhat more than that of a dog?! Each day aquarists conduct enrichment exercises to encourage cognitive thinking and natural hunting behaviors. Our octopuses are given a variety of items such as baby or dog toys, and puzzles like closed jars with food inside to keep them occupied.  Check out this video of  an octopus in action!

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