by Kaitlin Bureck
Becoming a mother automatically enters a person into a sisterhood unimaginable to the rest of us that have not kissed a booboo better, slipped a toonie under a pillow in exchange for a tooth, been covered in another human’s poop, or had the experience of being called Mom. From discussions with my own mother, the force that draws people into this international sisterhood is the knowledge that another person feels the same levels of inexplainable joy and endless love. The cementing force however, is realizing that other mothers have gone through the same hardships, overwhelming responsibility, and exhaustion that comes with raising a child.
This truth and cementing bond transverses the animal kingdom and reaches a selflessness epicentre with a small, deep-sea, and lonely female octopus. Perhaps lonely isn’t completely accurate, she is surrounded by hundreds of lives but they just happen to be of the cemented, milky, and of the not-hatched variety. She spends her days and nights guarding these precious egg capsules from predators by splaying her body over them while also keeping them clean of debris and oxygenated. With so many lives dependant on her, the female octopus rarely has opportunities to move away from her egg capsules and feed – another transcending truth.
Photo by MBARI, 2007
This routine of constant vigilance has been documented to have occurred in one species of deep-sea octopus, Graneledone boreopacifica, for four and half years after the egg capsules were laid. Read that again. If you prefer, that equates approximately to 54 months or 1647 days or 39, 528 hours of guarding, fanning, and starving for this 9-cm long miraculous mother. Why would any organism do this? Well, I wish I could paint a picture of an unparalleled love magnified by the fact that octopuses have three hearts but, in actuality, it has to do with setting up their offspring for success. The longer that a young octopus stays within its egg capsule, the more time they have time to develop so that by the time they hatch they are capable of surviving and hunting on their own. The exceedingly long brooding period that the G. boreopacifica endures is thought to be a product of the cold surrounding waters that cause octopus egg capsules to develop slower than they would in shallow, warmer habitats. The finish line for this marathon of maternal care is marked by the egg capsules hatching followed by the death of the mother octopus. A truly selfless mother.
Whether your mother has 2 arms or 8 arms, their dedication to your being is truly a miracle and one that deserves celebration. Mother’s Day provides us with the perfect opportunity to dedicate some time to thank them for the support they have provided and the love they have given. I for one am going to tell my mom about the little deep-sea octopus and let her know how much the egg capsule appreciated it.