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12 Strange Things You Probably Didn't Know About Octopus Mating

Updated May 26, 2020 90.8k views12 items
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The mystery of octopus mating is one of life's greatest questions. We know that octopus reproduction must happen, since octopuses (not octopi!) exist, but how, exactly, do octopuses do it? If you've never thought about this before, you're thinking about it now. And if you think it might be complicated or weird, you don't even know the half of it.

Researchers have only recently learned more about the reproductive habits of these 8-legged creatures. In fact, they once thought octopuses, normally solitary creatures, had boring, speedy intercourse. Boy were those researchers wrong. 

  • Males Will Get In Fights With Other Males While Doing It

    The competition for female octopuses doesn't end at courting; the male octopuses need to be on high alert even once mating has begun. Males have been known to attack other male competition while their mating arm is still inside the female.

  • Males Will Pretend To Be Female

    With love being such a battlefield in the octopus world, the men have had to come up with some inventive tactics in order to improve their chances of mating—or even just surviving. Some males pretend to be a female octopus in order to pass by territorial male octopuses unnoticed. It's probably not as nearly as fun as Mrs. Doubtfire makes it sound.

  • It Doesn't Look Like Sex At All

    If you saw two octopuses mating, you might not recognize it as sex. Before reproducing, octopuses will perform courtship rituals. Once they finish that, the fun begins! 

    First, the male ejects a spermatophore from his ligula, a reproductive area of his third right arm, called the hectoctylus. The male then inserts his arm in the female's oviduct and transfers the spermatophore through his hectoctylus to her, which takes about an hour. The scientific language muddles things, but basically, it looks like the male octopus just puts his arm in the female octopuses face. The female will later eject her eggs, which pass by the spermatophore and  become fertilized. 

    This all happens in one of two positions, either with the male on top or side-by-side. 

  • It Takes Three To Four Hours

    Photo: prilfish / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Once two octopuses finally pair up, they keep busy for quite some time. Octopuses usually take three to four hours to mate, which means that there's no such thing as an octopus quickie.