Humans are lucky our mating rituals are nothing like the octopus’. For one thing, cannibalism is sometimes part of the deal.
The eight-legged creatures are the ultimate loners. They spend their entire lives solo and, when they sense the end is near, finally search for a lover to reproduce. They have sex once, and once only, and then the octopus simply dies.
That’s right. An octopus has sex once in its lifetime, at the end of its life, and never gets to do it again. They’re called “terminal breeders,” living about four years before they do the deed and die. Males perish immediately, and females waste away soon after their eggs are hatched.
The mating rituals of the octopus are not a private affair at the Seattle Aquarium. The curator of fish and invertebrates there, Tim Carpenter, has been called upon to explain how the creatures do the nasty. That’s because a particularly bulky male octopus named Kong just had his once-in-a-lifetime nookie cancelled in front of the entire country, CNN reported.
You see, the aquarium has a rather strange annual ritual, fittingly planned for every Valentine’s Day for the past 10 years, Huffington Post reported. It’s the highlight of the so-called Octopus Week, when two aloof octopuses are united in one tank and (hopefully) make love before an ogling audience of human beings.
— KOMO News (@komonews) February 14, 2016
The two lovers are kept separate before the mating event. In fact, whenever the aquarium has a couple octopuses on display, they’re always kept apart by a thick sheet of Plexiglas in their tank.
But there’s nothing particularly sexy about two octopuses getting it on. The mating ritual is quite different than our own, Carpenter explained to CrossCut.com. If the audience (and the octopus) gets lucky, they’ll witness the creatures “embrace within minutes, arms intertwined, skin flushed,” then watch as the male puts his “special arm” (or hectocotylus) into the female’s head (actually her mantle, or the place she keeps her organs).
Sometimes, the mating is preceded by some “hanging out” that could last for an hour or 12, Carpenter said. Or the octopus couple could completely ignore each other.
“A blind date is a blind date, and you never know how it’s going to go.”
But there was a little bit of a snafu this year and eager audiences didn’t witness a sexy mating encounter between the two animals. Instead, the male — a beast named Kong — will be released back into the Puget Sound without his lusty desires satisfied, KOMO reported.
Turns out, Kong was far too big for his female companions. The octopus is a 70-pound behemoth, and the ladies in the tank only a mere 40 pounds. Instead of looking at his fellow octopus as a mate, aquarium officials feared that he’d see her as food and audiences would witness some octopus cannibalism instead of coitus.
People were instead treated to the sight of a diver swimming with Kong, who is a Giant Pacific Octopus, Fox 12 added. An octopus will grow throughout its life, and can top out at 110 pounds.
“Even if we put a 30- or 45-pound female out there, there’s a chance he would see her as food,” Carpenter said. “We were looking for an animal of at least 60, 65 pounds. We’ve never seen an animal that was ready to mate that was smaller than 35 pounds. Beyond that, we won’t even bother.”
This year, aquarists found the massive Kong, and though they found plenty of ladies in the Puget Sound as well, none of them were big enough for mating purposes.
So this Valentine’s Day, everyone — Kong the octopus included — left the Seattle Aquarium disappointed. However, the ladies in the tank were probably relieved. After all, no one who wants a little lovin’ on Valentine’s Day would want to be eaten instead.
[Photo By Kondratuk A/Shutterstock]