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

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. 

  • Octopuses Lose Their Minds After Doing It, Then Pass Away

    Even if two Pacific octopuses succeed in copulating without a scratch, they both enter a stage called senescence. It's a "dementia-like" state that begins soon after mating and only ends with death. Males experience this in solitude, whereas females tend to their eggs during senescence.

    Pacific octopuses will stop eating and essentially waste away, wandering aimlessly through the open water and making themselves easy targets for predators. Eventually, lesions appear on their skin that do not heal, and they die of either infection, starvation, or as prey. Romeo and Juliet would love Pacific octopuses. 

  • It Sometimes Ends In Cannibalism

    It Sometimes Ends In Cannibalism
    Photo: Scott Ableman / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    As if male octopuses didn't already have enough on the line, researchers have seen female octopuses kill and eat their suitors. That's pretty aggressive flirting, but these things happen. According to Richard Ross of the California Academy of Science's Steinhart Aquarium, "There's always the threat of cannibalism."

  • Males Face Grave Risks During Intercourse

    Octopus copulation is complex and violent, but male octopuses bear the brunt of the danger. Female octopuses may strangle, gravely injure, or tear limbs from their potential mates. Wise male octopuses know better than to mess around with their mates in the bedroom.

  • A Male Will Rip His Own Arm Off To Escape Alive

    Sometimes, the male octopus will perceive danger while mating and will cut and run - literally. Males have been known to leave their mating arm inside the female in order to ensure the pair's safety. This allows for successful mating even if the male has to leave in a hurry. 

  • 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.