baby octopuses about the size of fleas have folks jumping at The
University of Southern Mississippi Scott Aquarium.
In a first
for the aquarium, a female octopus has laid eggs and is hatching
them. Hopes are that a few of the thousands of babies will survive
past three months.
breed her here," Buck Schesny, aquarist, said. "We got
her earlier this spring, and she evidently had already received
a sperm packet. For them to hatch is common, but to raise the juveniles
to adulthood is very difficult."
the egg-hatching process is, having an opportunity to see it firsthand
is not. The octopus first came to the aquarium thanks to a Pascagoula
shrimper who had caught her in a trawl.
weeks ago she disappeared under a rock. She has been hatching since
July 25," Schesny said. The only evidence visible to visitors
is a multitude of flea-sized specks pulsing around the tank. The
specks may be dark or light, as the juveniles already have the ability
to change color as a protection mechanism.
scenes, the aquarium crew has scraped off paint that provided a
background for the 210-gallon tank, home to the adult octopus. A
small piece of plywood keeps light out until it is time for the
aquarists to take a peek at mom and her eggs.
plasters eggs to the walls of her den," said Jennifer Hale,
Scott Aquarium educator and a storehouse of knowledge about cephalopods
- octopus and squid. "She stays with her eggs for the entire
brood time. It may take two to three months for them all to hatch."
has already slowed down at the aquarium.
moving juveniles out to a 250-gallon tank twice a day," Schesny
said. "Now it is down to once a day."
Hale said the
female doesn't leave the den and uses her arms and suckers to brush
over the eggs to keep them clean and oxygenated.
she doesn't go out hunting, she ingests about one-third of her body
weight," Hale said. "After the eggs hatch, she usually
dies of pure starvation. If she doesn't die, when she emerges from
her den in the wild, a host of other animals are waiting for her.
She is just too weak to get away. She is an easy meal."
that rainy weather on the coast is one of the difficulties in keeping
the new arrivals alive.
water was nice and salty, I could collect food right here off the
seawall. Right now I have to go out to where it is salty to get
the food they need."
The first three
months the octopus juveniles dine on copepods - small crustaceans.
The juveniles are voracious eaters, and having the right food -
and enough of it - is essential for their survival. Schesny is already
seeing high mortality, but he is still hoping that the aquarium
team can nurse at least one into adulthood.
would be another first for us," he said.
The J.L. Scott
Marine Education Center and Aquarium is part of the Southern Miss
Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.