Jelly Belly: Elusive Deep Sea Octopus Takes Its Gelatinous Meals To Go

By Christie Wilcox | March 31, 2017 7:50 pm
A female seven-arm octopus carrying an egg-yolk jelly. Photo © MBARI

A female seven-arm octopus carrying an egg-yolk jelly. Photo © MBARI

The seven-arm octopus, Haliphron atlanticus, lives a hidden life deep in the dark depths of the oceans. These massive cephalopods—females of which can grow to be more than 12 feet long—earned the moniker for their habit of folding one of their eight arms away. What little is known of their daily lives has largely been gleaned from dead animals pulled from the sea by trawls, as inhabitants of the deep sea, their activities are nearly impossible to observe. Now, a new paper in Scientific Reports provides insights into their diet and behavior, finding they prefer to dine on species we tend to think of as less than palatable: jellyfish.

Scientists from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) used remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to explore the dark depths between 800 and 1700 feet below the surface to video the species that persist in these habitats alive. In 27 years of deep sea research, they only spotted three living octopus. The most recent footage, taken in July 2013, was so surprising that they re-examined every old video and museum specimens for further evidence of what it depicted: a diet of jellyfish.

The video, taken at a depth of about 1240 feet in the Monterey Submarine Canyon, shows a large female octopus carrying a large egg-yolk jelly (Phacellophora camtschatica) in tucked in her arms. When she spread her arms, the scientists were able to see her beak had bitten through the jelly’s bell from the outside, likely killing the animal. It was unclear if she was holding onto her dinner to continue to consume it, or, if she was repurposing the animal’s potent tentacles for her own use. The scientists propose that the carrying behavior may not be dining and dashing, but rather, the octopus could be using the tentacles of the jelly to either defend herself against potential foes or ensnare additional meal items. Such a behavior would not be unheard of—one close relative of Haliphron, the blanket octopus, suctions Portuguese man-of-war tentacles to its arms for similar uses.

When the scientific team examined older footage, they found two more sightings of Haliphron atlanticus; in one video, the octopus was clutching an unidentifiable gelatinous creature, and in the other, the octopus was holding a “yellow mass” that was never revealed—so in both cases, similar behaviors could have been occurring. Then, in the stomachs of five museum specimens, they identified tentacle fragments and other remains from siphonophores and salps, affirming that this species of octopus feeds on jellies and other gelatinous creatures.

Haliphron‘s affinity for jellies fits right in with what we know of its relatives. As a member of the superfamily Argonautoidea, it is closely related to several octopus species known to associate with gelatinous creatures. Small and young blanket octopus males (Tremoctopus gracilis) were first observed with the stinging tentacles of Portuguese man o’ war suctioned to their tentacles in the late 1950s. It was speculated that these stinging fragments were for offense, defense, or both, potentially. The football octopus (Ocythoe tuberculata) makes its home inside salps, likely using the gelatinous walls as a refuge from predators and possibly snacking on tidbits that flow through the salp as it pumps water through its tissues. And most intriguingly, the paper nautilus (Argonauta sp.) have been observed dining on jellies and whatever food they contain in their digestive cavities using the very same bell-grabbing and biting maneuver.

Paper nautiluses also grab jellies by the bell and pierce into them using their sharp beaks. Photo © Thomas Heeger, via Tree of Life

Paper nautiluses also grab jellies by the bell and pierce into them using their sharp beaks. Photo © Thomas Heeger, via Tree of Life

Outside of this group of octopus, there are other species that feed on venomous jellies and other gooey ocean critters. Notable diners include sea turtles, ocean sunfish, and somewhat distant cousins of the octopus, nudibranchs, which will consume jellies and other cnidarians while somehow keeping their stinging cells in tact so they can be repurposed for the nudibranch’s defense. Our species, too, has been known to delight in jellies; in some parts of the world, these jello-esque creatures are considered a delicacy. Many scientists think that the overall number of species that eat gelatinous animals may be grossly underestimated, as without hard parts, their soft bodies are quickly digested and easy to overlook in stomach content analyses.

This discovery provides a clearer picture of the food web in these hard-to-observe habitats. Scientists have long known that sperm whales, sharks, and swordfish consume these large, deep sea octopus, so understanding the octopus’ diet helps them connect the dots between smaller oceanic species and the largest predators of the deep.

 

Citation: Hoving, H.J.T. and Haddock, S.H.D. (2017) The giant deep-sea octopus Haliphron atlanticus forages on gelatinous fauna. Sci. Rep. 7, 44952; doi:10.1038/srep44952.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, More Science, select, Top Posts
ADVERTISEMENT
  • http://secure93.com Oliver Pierce

    M­a­n­y p­e­o­ple wish t­o ha­v­e a awesome earnings at their, bu­t t­he­y do­n’t kno­w ho­w t­o exactly d­o th­at o­n th­e Int­ernet. Th­ere ar­e a a number of w­ays t­o ea­rn large am­ount of mo­ney, b­ut wh­enev­er p­eopl­e t­ry th­at the­y g­et tr­app­ed in a fraud, And so I am sh­aring wi­th yo­u a g­enuine an­d gu­arante­ed w­ay f­or fre­e to ea­rn hug­e am­ount of mon­ey a­t ho­me.I am making atleast $10000 monthly since 1 year.Its an internet based job and also very simple to do, Even a little boy or girl can do this work and make online money. If you want a happy and rich life then you need to copy and paste this web-site in web browser and then follow instructions to get started right now and earn Thousands Over the internet……….. http://ipt­.­pw/WdBp8f

  • OWilson

    English is hard to learn.

    We have the 7 armed octopus (actually 8) which is named with the prefix ‘octo’ meaning 8, which is also given to the 10th month, October :)

    • Tom

      All of the months following August use number prefixes. September (sept = 7, the 9th month) and November (nov = 9, the 11th month), in addition to October and December. July and August were formerly Quintillis (quint = 5, the 7th month) and Sextillis (sex = 6, the 8th month), before they were renamed in honor of Julius and Augustus Caesar.

      The Roman calendar used to start with March (meaning Quintillis/July was the 5th month of the year), and after December was an “intercalery month” of 50 or so days. That later got turned into January and February, and the traditional year began starting with January some time after, which pushed all the other months two later in numeric order.

  • http://secure93.com Jesse Fowler

    M­a­n­y p­e­o­ple desire t­o ha­v­e a awesome earnings at their, bu­t t­he­y don’t have much idea ho­w t­o exactly d­o th­at o­n th­e Int­ernet. Th­ere ar­e a l­ot of w­ays t­o ea­rn big am­ount of mo­ney, b­ut wh­enev­er p­eopl­e t­ry th­at the­y g­et tr­app­ed in a fraud, And so I am sh­aring wi­th yo­u a g­enuine an­d gu­arante­ed w­ay f­or fre­e to ea­rn hug­e am­ount of mon­ey a­t ho­me.I am earning atleast $10000 every month since a year.Its an internet based job and very simple to do, Even a little child can do this work and make money online. If you want a happy and rich life then you need to copy and paste this web site in browser and then follow instructions to get started right now and earn Thousands Using the internet……….. http://shrty­.­link/mfiDZU

  • http://secure93.com Joel White

    M­a­n­y p­e­o­ple desire t­o ha­v­e a awesome earnings at h­o­me, bu­t t­he­y do­n’t kno­w ho­w t­o exactly d­o th­at o­n th­e Int­ernet. Th­ere ar­e a many w­ays t­o ea­rn great am­ount of mo­ney, b­ut wh­enev­er p­eopl­e t­ry th­at the­y g­et tr­app­ed in a s­cam, So Now I am sh­aring wi­th yo­u a g­enuine an­d gu­arante­ed w­ay f­or fre­e to ea­rn hug­e am­ount of mon­ey a­t ho­me.I am earning atleast $10000 on a monthly basis since 1 year.Its an internet based job and not difficult to do, Even a little child can do this work and make online money. If you want a happy and rich life then you need to copy and paste this web site in browser and then follow instructions to get started right now and earn Thousands On the internet……….. http://ru­.­vu/AKjeY

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Science Sushi

Real Science. Served Raw.

About Christie Wilcox

Dr. Christie Wilcox is a science writer and postdoctoral scholar at the University of Hawaii. She freelances for major media outlets including The New York Times and Popular Science. Her debut book, Venomous, releases August 2016 (Scientific American/FSG Books). To learn more about her life and work, check out her webpage or follow her on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

@NerdyChristie on Twitter

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Collapse bottom bar
+