The search for an octopus model that will not die after laying its egg

Roy Caldwell, a behavioral ecologist at the University of California, Berkeley, first met the chierchiae, also known as the Pacific’s least striped octopus, in the mid-1970s in Panama. He was pulling rocks from the ocean to find mantis shrimp hiding in the cracks. “Every now and then, this cute little striped octopus would come out,” he said.

Bring some octopuses to Berkeley. Soon, “one of the females laid eggs, and I thought that was kind of a bummer because I knew she was going to die,” Dr. Caldwell said. “And it didn’t die.” Two months later, the eggs are laid again.

a paper 1984 By Arcadio Rodaniche, a Panamanian scientist, confirmed Dr. Caldwell’s observation: Females of this species, unlike almost all other octopuses, can reproduce several times.

This trait, along with its appropriate size, has made it an attractive subject for laboratory research. Unfortunately, Dr. Caldwell was unable to find more in Panama. None of the biologists or collectors he asked saw anything either.

The little cephalopod was just a memory until about 2010, when “I got an email from a high school student,” said Dr. Caldwell, “who wanted to know how he could take care of his new pet octopus.” The student sent a photo. The stripes of the zebra octopus were unmistakable.

Dr. Caldwell traced the octopus to a collector in Nicaragua. Finally, he can get a few striped octopuses from the Pacific Ocean and try to get a colony in his lab. But over three or four years of trying, he never got past the second generation. After that, Dr. Caldwell said, the eggs of the females did not hatch. It was suspected that inbreeding was a problem, as was the diet. “We didn’t know exactly what to feed them.”

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That question was still unanswered in 2016, when Dr. Rosenthal came to the Marine Biological Laboratory with a dream of making a cephalopod model to aid in scientific research. He recruited Mr. Grass, who was known to be a bit of a cephalopod whisperer, from the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. Taylor Sackmar, also a Monterey Bay aquarium, came to Cape Cod to help build a new type of facility for the many armed animals.

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