For octopus moms, the miracle of birth is a real mixed bag. They're bringing new octopus life into the world, but then they die immediately after. Pretty harsh, right?
It gets worse: Scientists just figured out that before they die, octopus moms go through a dramatic death spiral that even includes some self-cannibalization.
So how does this whole gruesome process work? According to the study, published on October 8 in the Journal of Experimental Biology, octopuses are guided in life by their optic gland, which drives them to mate and take care of their eggs.
Once those eggs have hatched, the optic gland, which is located between an octopus's eyes, also triggers the mom's suicide mission.
To learn more, researchers observed wild-caught octopuses caring for their eggs. In the first stage of brooding, the octopuses kept eating, perhaps to keep up their energy to take care of the eggs. But after eight days, the poor doomed moms started fasting and their health declined rapidly.
One of the weirder stages of decline involved the octopuses slamming themselves into the side of the tank to injure themselves. They also started wildly grooming their bodies with all of their arms, which created a tangled mess.
After the wild grooming, which the researchers described as looking like a "turbulent mass of entangled arms," it got even stranger. The octopuses actually ate their arm tips and suckers.
That's right, just a little self-cannibalization.
It was all downhill from there: The skin around their eyes sunk in, and they started to look pale. The researchers analyzed the optic nerve at each stage of this sad process, and saw that different genes were expressed at each phase.
It suggested that post-reproductive death was an active process, at least as far as the optic nerve was concerned.
And the scientists' theory as to why this happens at all really brings the whole octopus horror show together.
They believe that the moms have to kill themselves — because otherwise they would eat their own babies.
Apparently octopuses really have some cannibalistic tendencies.
So good job, evolution? It figured out that octopuses are great at protecting their eggs but maybe don't make the best moms once the babies are born. Still weird, though.