Do Octopuses Commit Suicide?

By Colin Dunlop

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There are some references to octopuses and other animals "committing suicide." This is a subjective way of looking at certain types of animal death, such as saying that whales found beached on the shore are "committing suicide." Is an octopus mother, who does not eat after she lays her eggs, truly "committing suicide," an act that is familiar to us as human beings? Or is something else at work?

I believe that the term "suicide" means a conscious decision to end a life. It presumes that something is sentient and knows what it is doing.... I strongly disagree with referring to animals jumping off cliffs (such as lemmings) as suicides. I don't think that is suicide. In the case of wolf spiders being devoured by their young, the female is dying because of an inbuilt response - it's not a conscious decision like suicide. The female has simply lived her life and chemicals are released that start to kill her. The babies take advantage!

The same thing happens with the female octopus. When her eggs mature, she has lived her life and dies. This actually makes space for the future development of offspring and increases food for them. In addition, the young octopuses don't have to compete with adults who would prey on them, too

Octopuses can sometimes suffer from autophagy, or self-cannibalism. That is what is described as "eating its own arms." This is caused by stress. A stressed animal is not a healthy animal and is open to infection. It is believed that it is caused by a virus/bacteria which can manage to take hold on a stressed...
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About the Author
Colin is a Countryside Ranger with a background in Applied Biological Sciences and joined the staff in March 2002. Based in one of the UK's largest country parks he is responsible for the care, conservation and management of many natural waterways, woodlands, bogs and forests across Lanarkshire. He is a published author on cephalopods and experienced in keeping them in the home; this includes cuttlefish and octopuses, and has advanced diplomas in both ‘Fish Biology & Fish Health’ and ‘Water Quality & Filtration’. Colin is a licensed amphibian worker and currently lives just South of Glasgow, Scotland.


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