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More than 250 species of octopuses are known, most of them living only long enough to mature and reproduce. As members of the cephalopod group -- which includes squid and cuttlefish -- octopuses have extraordinary flexibility, intelligence and camouflage abilities to help them avoid predators. Yet most octopuses live only a few years in the wild.
By the time baby octopuses begin hatching from their eggs, they are already orphans who must survive on their own. In their early form, known as paralarvae, the octopuses usually get swept up in clouds of plankton, where they eat larval crabs and starfish. However, they run the risk of being devoured along with the plankton by other hungry sea life. If an octopus survives the paralarval stage, it eventually falls deeper into the ocean.
When the octopus reaches the deeper ocean levels, he begins to grow quickly. According to the Everything Octopus website, the juvenile will increase in weight by 5 percent daily until reaching full size. Until the octopus becomes an adult, the creature is vulnerable. In fact, few of a spawning's thousands of hatched babies will reach maturity. Only two or three giant Pacific octopus paralarvae will live to reproduce. Male octopuses do reach adulthood earlier, but they may still be too small to mate. Research shows adult females prefer to mate with larger males.
Adulthood & Reproduction
Depending on the octopus species, adulthood is usually reached after only one to two years. The male will seek multiple female mates. Within months of mating with a female, the male will actually die. Consequently, males do not live as long in the wild as females do. Females will carry the fertilized eggs with her until they grow enough to be released, usually in strings hanging around her den. She can lay up to 100,000 eggs. For the next several months, the female protects her eggs from predators and ensures they receive sufficient oxygen. During these times, which can last 2 to 10 months depending on the octopus species, the female does not eat and slowly wastes away. She usually lives long enough to blow the eggs free from her den so the paralarvae can break free and join the plankton cloud.
The length of time that passes between hatching, reproduction and death varies among octopus species. Common octopuses, for example, may live only two years, while giant octopuses can live as long as three years but up to five years as long as they don't mate. The giant Pacific octopus may between three to five years in the wild.
- National Geographic: Common Octopus
- PBS.org: The Octopus Show
- Alaska Pacific University: Giant Octopus Life Cycle
- Everything Octopus: Life Cycle of an Octopus
- Oregon Public Broadcasting: Octopus Babies Hatching in Puget Sound
- The Bizarre Life Cycle of Octopuses: Young Octopuses
- Hatfield Marine Science Center: OctoFaq
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images