A female octopus.
Laying eggs marks the beginning of the end of its life. She needs to cover them and defend them against would-be predators. She needs to gently waft currents over them so they get a constant supply of fresh, oxygenated water. And she does this continuously, never leaving and never eating. She can lay up to 400,000 eggs, which she obsessively guard and tend to. Prioritizing her motherly duties, she stops eating. But she doesn’t starve to death–rather, when the eggs hatch, the female’s body turns on her. Her body undertakes a cascade of cellular suicide, starting from the optic glands and rippling outward through her tissues and organs until she dies.
Biologists rarely get a chance to measure how long these brooding periods last; at Monterey Bay, Robison’s team had a rare opportunity. For four and a half years, they returned to the same spot and found the same octopus, “clinging to the vertical rock face, arms curled, covering her eggs”. As biologist Jim Cosgrove says, “No mother could give more”. You can watch a giant Pacific octopus going through this surprisingly moving sacrifice in the clip below.