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Scientists Finally Know Why Octopuses Torture And Eat Themselves Before Their Eggs Hatch

by : James Hilsum on :
Scientists Finally Know Why Octopuses Torture And Eat Themselves Before Their Eggs Hatch
Scientists Finally Know Why Octopuses Torture And Eat Themselves Before Their Eggs Hatch (Alamy)

If you’ve ever wondered why octopuses torture and eat themselves before their eggs hatch, then we now have the answer for you.

The reasons behind this brutal process has baffled scientists for many years, but these have now been revealed.

For those not in the know, octopus mothers-to-be have been recorded to stop eating when their eggs are close to hatching. They are then known to embark on a path of self-destruction, which includes beating themselves against a rock, tearing at their own skin, and even eat pieces of their own arms. 

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According to Current Biology, mother octopuses go through this seemingly painful ordeal due to the chemical changes in their bodies which happens when they lay their eggs.

Mother octopuses go through this brutal process when their eggs are close to hatching. Credit: Alamy
Mother octopuses go through this brutal process when their eggs are close to hatching. Credit: Alamy

A 1977 study explained that a set of glands near the octopus’s eyes are responsible for the self-destruction. These glands produce steroid hormones in the octopus, which push octopuses to torture themselves when the eggs are laid.

Three chemical shifts happen at the same time that the mother lays her eggs. There are rises in the pregnenolone and progesterone hormones, while the levels of 7-dehydrocholesterol, or 7-DHC also increase.

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The 7-DHC compound can be toxic and is something present in our bodies when we build cholesterol, meaning we want to get rid of it as soon as possible.

However, the difference between ourselves and octopuses is that they do not have the same bile acids as humans and other animals, but do make the building blocks for those acids.

Are octopuses really 'programmed to die'? Credit: Pexels
Are octopuses really 'programmed to die'? Credit: Pexels
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Scientists believe that these chemical changes are come together to cause the octopuses to inflict this pain on themselves.

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It is still unclear as to why these changes occur and why their bodies are designed in this way.

But University of Washington assistant professor, Z. Yan Wang, told LiveScience it could be a way in order to protect younger octopuses as the 'die-off protects the babies from the older generation'.

As naturally cannibalistic creatures, this ultimate death of the octopuses could be a way to kill off the older generation and protect the younger ones before they are ultimately killed and eaten themselves. This suggests octopuses are, quite literally, 'programmed to die'.

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