Chicago Adventure, Part Seven: Octopus Sex


The Chicago Field Museum is one of the largest and most respected natural history museums in the world. Join me as we go behind the scenes! Dun dun dun! Would you like a chair? Sure. Is there one?
– Grab that red one. I’ll grab the… Hoo. We know more about Mars anymore than we know about the deep sea and yet we go there looking for life and the deep sea is full of life and we don’t know what’s there. That’s awesome.
– One example… is this little octopus. It lives in hydrothermal vents in the East Pacific rise at depths of, let’s say, 24 to 26 hundred meters.
– Wow. And it apparently eats the stuff that’s produced by chemosynthesis. So they’re white. What is coming out of its head? What is that? Why does it look like a Conehead? You know, your normal octopuses, this part tends to be rounded, but that’s one of really weird things about this thing, its head actually, its brain, lies between the eyes, which are right there; this part, which some people say looks like a nose, is actually its guts. Ew! Well, you know…
– Why, I mean, I mean that’s kinda cool, but… I’ve opened this, I’ve slipped the back part of the mantle and I’ve cut some things, so I can look at the insides. I can count the number of gill lamellae here and here on the other side, and these black spots, these are actually the hearts that pump the blood through the gills. It has more than one heart? It’s got three.
– It’s got three hearts?! What do you do with three hearts when you’re that small, though? Well, when you think about it, like our right heart just pumps the blood into our lungs. They have one heart for each of the gills so a right and a left gill-heart. But then what’s the third heart? a systemic heart, that pumps the blood from the gills everywhere else.
– Ooh, from- Okayy. Everyw- So- Oh, they just like break up the, the roles.
– Yeah. Why is this so pointy, I don’t know, but this is the testes. Octopus males, and females, come to think of it, only have one gonad. Okay. Weird, okay.
– And… Males only have one of what’s historically called a penis, but it’s not actually…
– Historically called a penis? Well, if you think of a penis as being like an intromittent organ… Yeah. But here, octopuses don’t put their penis inside the female. Octopuses transfer sperm by a modified arm tip. What? No way. Just on one arm? Or on all the arms?
– Just one. Okay. You know.
– They just have one special arm. One special arm. Wow. That’s… very… unusual. How do you discover these kind of things? Well if you watch octopuses, sometimes you’ll see this arm, the right third one, is carried differently. And those guys are protecting this arm, ’cause it’s only the one. What happens is, that the terminal organ here, at the- inside the mantle, releases a packet of sperm that’s actually a long thin tube through the funnel and it’s grabbed right at the base of this arm by this extra groove.
– Oh. And this extra groove moves that long skinny tube to the tip of that arm, what’s called the ligula, and that arm, when they’re in use, copulating, is inserted inside the mantle of the female, and nobody knows exactly what happens, we think it’s x-rated
– Well, I mean, I think I can- yeah, deduce… But it’s probably inserted into the oviduct. And what’s really cooler than that is, I think, all of the coleoid, cephalopods, and that’s the cephalopods other than nautilus who are alive have the same type of spermatophore that inside is a hyperosmotic fluid- Wait, I don’t- You gotta slow down. What is that? What are you talking about? It’s full of all sorts of chemicals that actually make it
– Okay. the equivalent of hypersaline And you know about osmosis right?
– Oh, okay. Yeah. That water will move in to make the concentrations even. In this spermatophore, the water moves in as soon as the male releases it. The pressure builds on this long skinny tube with a huge amount of surface area and s- and low volume.
– Okay. And then it opens and discharges into the female. Weird.
– And it’s got just elaborate stuff in there. So it’s kind of like one of those party poppers. Oh girl, you should be doin’ porn. Party poppers? Talkin’ about sperm delivery!
– I mean- I-
– I mean! Well, I’m just trying to relate it to something I understand! Jeez, I’m not- Now these are animals who live in the deep sea. If it turns out you only meet one male in your life who’s able to give you sperm, you pass up that chance. You’re not having any babies.
– You’re out of luck. Yeah. So they go ahead and copulate. They save the sperm, they store it. Weird! Uh, for when they’re ready? For when they’re ready. The females will sit and brood their eggs for as long it takes those eggs to develop and then about the time the eggs develop, the females, who haven’t eaten since they produced the eggs, die.
– Oh. Oh, well, what a bummer. Oh, now we’re gonna look at baby octopus. What it- uh, ah, is it octopities? It’s octopuses. Octopuses. Oh. ‘Cause- There’s been a lot of contention about this where I’m from. It’s because of the way the root is constructed. Okay. You’ll have to forgive me, it’s either Latin or Greek that you don’t make plural by adding an -i. It’s the one that you just add the -es. This is an octopus hatchling. That’s a pretty big hatchling. It’s 55 millimeters. So it’s just born and ready to go. It’s ready to go, and in fact, there’s signs of reproductive maturity. Nuh-uh! These guys are pretty sweet. They’re amazing.
– I didn’t really reali- And I’ve eaten some and I, you know, never even realized. Now, I feel really kind of strange about that. Well, I mean, cows are pretty cool. Is that a wrap? I think so. I just-
– Alright. What can you tell me about this species?

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