Let’s talk about the mother Octopus
You’re probably wondering why the hell I want to talk about a slimy, eight-legged sea creature, and that’s fair. It’s not like this is a website about marine biology and I’m no Jaque Cousteau (the ocean scares me). Having said that, I feel it’s important that as many people as possible know about the mother Octopus, even if you’re not a female yourself (or an Octopus). Also, I’ve been sick for the past few days with the plague (hyperbole) and am about to lose my mind with boredom. I can’t stay confined in my home for this long without going crazy, so I figure ‘what the hell?’ I’ll write about Octopuses….Octopi? Whatever. Cause this is where my brain is after copious amounts of cold meds and mouth-breathing naps.
First, let’s go through a brief list of animal mothers worthy of recognition; the good and the bad
We all know the term “mama bear”. It’s used to describe over-protective mothers who, like real bears, will tear out your throat if you threaten her offspring. This is applicable to female Grizzly Bears (fun fact, a mother bear is actually called a “sow”). These bears are like 15 feet tall, weigh an estimated gagillion pounds, and are helicopter parents from hell.They will kill you, rip off your skin, and make furniture out of it. Sadly, this isn’t always the case for every bear species.
Black Bear moms are actually kinda terrible. If you have more than one child with you while you’re shopping at Target and they start screaming like banshees in the home decor aisle, you’ve probably said to yourself: why did I decide to have more than one child? why did I decide to have children at all? It sounds horrible to say out loud but you KNOW YOU HAVE DONE IT DON’T DENY IT. Well the Black Bear welcomes the challenge of wrangling a litter of cubs. Usually they have multiple births (twins, triplets), but if they only have one she will abandon it and bounce out of there because it’s apparently just not worth her time. If she only knew how much more she could get done…
We all know how amazing Emperor Penguins are. They are monogamists who love each other until death and they co-parent better than Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen. Basically: egg hatches, dad keeps it warm while mom walks like 100 miles for food, she returns, they switch roles. repeat until the kid is old enough to fen for itself. That’s dedication!
Elephants are by far my favorite animal. I have elephant elephant curtains, elephant wall mounts, elephant fire-place-decor-thingys, and even an elephant tattoo. They are amazing creatures with a strong tie to family and community (it takes a village, after all). Every human mother knows the feeling you have during your last month of pregnancy. You feel like a beached whale with a weak bladder and the inability to find a comfortable sleeping position. Your husband starts to believe you are possessed, as you make demon noises every time he breathes because OMG IT’S SO ANNOYING. Well 9 months ain’t shit in the elephant world. Those ladies carry their babies for 22 months. That’s almost 2 years. TWO. YEARS. What a heart-burn-filled nightmare. After they give birth to what I can only imagine feels like a linebacker to us humans, they nurse them for 6 more years. Talk about nipple chaffing…
Some animal mothers are not so different from us, at least when it comes to being crazy, jealous, psycho lovers. The House Sparrow is salty AF. If she finds out her man has a side chick that he’s knocked up, that bitch will find her nest and KILL HER BABIES. What the fuck, man? Why can’t you just key his car and set his XBox on fire like the rest of us?
This brings us to the mother Octopus
My son, who is 12, loves to watch nature documentaries. Luckily for me, I enjoy them as well, so we get bonding time in over some David Attenborough-narrated Netflix specials. National Geographic started releasing those high def nature documentaries several years ago and they have been wildly successful. I’ve seen them all countless times, but only 3 episodes truly stand out to me: The migration of the Monarch Butterflies, the Komodo Dragons who put a Water Buffalo through an insufferable hell, and the story of the mother Octopus.
Now, in most of these types of shows, they provide insight on the reproduction of these animals and the different characteristics each species has which helps them to carry on their lineage. There is no shortage of surprises in the lengths that animals will go through to mate, birth, and care for their offspring (as you know from my eloquent statement about elephants). But the Octopus is special for a few reasons.
She’s a strong independent Octopoda who don’t need no man (after the sex)
Everyone knows the infamous females in the wild who become psycho-aggressive to their mates post-coitus. The black widow has given rich ladies who have offed their husbands a bad name, as has the preying mantis who eats her man’s face, and don’t get me started on the female Angler fish. Her man gets screwed, and not in the fun way. Read Matthew Inman’s detailed and illustrated story of how maniacal those bitches are. Let’s just say the phrase “keeping your balls in a jar” is taken to entirely new heights.
Turns out, female Octopi are just as fed up with their men. Mating is performed by the male octopus extending his “special” arm into the females baby making orifice and fertilizing her thousands of eggs. You’d think at this point they’d call it good. This was just a transactional relationship where exchanges are made in mutual agreement. Except….she reaches out with one of her 8 tentacles and legit strangles the shit out of her baby daddy. You might be saying, “but wait, they live in the ocean and therefore don’t breathe air…how can she strangle him?” Glad you asked. She constricts the gills he uses to get oxygen from the ocean water in order to live. In sea life, this is strangulation and it’s metal AF if I’m being completely honest. After he dies she drags his lifeless body into her den and Hannibal Lecter-style eats him.
If you’re asking yourself why she is so goddamn angry at her lover that she murders him in a fit of after-sex rage, this might be because she immediately is aware of her fate. If there is one animal in the world who takes the crown for “if I can’t have you no one can” reactions, it’s the female Octopus. After she’s fertilized her eggs, murdered her lover, and digested his body, she basically holes herself up to care for her eggs.
If you thought 22 months of childbearing was bad for the elephants, 53 months must be hell for the Octopus. During this time, the mother doesn’t so much as peek outside her lair unless it’s to shoo away a pesky crab. She protects her babies at all costs. For 53 months she is the Fort Knox of the sea who occasionally blows soft currents of water of her eggs to provide consistently fresh oxygen and I assume to combat the boredom. She doesn’t eat unless she is certain she will die of starvation before her eggs hatch, in which case she will eat one of her own arms. Now, if I go more than a few hours without eating I turn into a monster (ask my boyfriend…sorry honey). She goes through 53 weeks of slow starvation, possible self cannibalism, and deterioration. She gradually suffers more and more each day in order to ensure her offspring have the best chance at survival. By the time her eggs hatch and her little octopus babies disperse from her den like a bunch of ungrateful brats, she is too weak to save herself. So she stays. And she dies. Alone.
She spends over 4 years sacrificing herself for thousands of children who, let’s be real, will probably just go on to perform angsty slam poetry about how much they resent her, until one day they are faced with making that same sacrifice. Only then do they realize their anger was misdirected, but lo, it is too late. Then the cycle starts over. I digress…
Long live the mother Octopus: Mother of all mothers
So the next time you complain about your pregnancy or child birth, and I do this myself all the time (21 hours of torture was like living in Dante’s Inferno where my cervix was the seventh circle of hell), remember the plite of the female Octopus and the ultimate offering she gives for the lives of her children. We all say “I would die for my children if I had to”, but she literally does. But hey, at least you aren’t the unlucky bastard who got her pregnant.