Tentacle Serenade: The Mesmerizing Mating Dance of the Wunderpus

No 72

The octopus known as the wunderpus (Wunderpus photogenicus) is a species found in the shallows of the Indo-Malayan Archipelago. Although it is, as its name suggests, a popular quarry with photographers, especially in the Philippines scuba-diving haven of Anilao, much about this striking-looking species remains mysterious. The wunderpus was discovered in the 1980s and has only been the object of serious study for a decade. It lives in mucky surroundings that are hard to traverse. Its soft mantle cannot be tagged, making it extra-difficult to track its movements. Its population count in the wild is still unknown.

The wunderpus burrows into the soft ocean bottom, which is also where it finds its mate. Female and male come together, the former using its hectocotylus, a grooved tentacle specially designed for handling spermatophores, to insert one of these self-nourishing sperm packets into the female. (The mating arm enters the oviduct by way of one of the two siphons on the female’s mantle.) Unlike with most octopi, on the wunderpus the hectocotylus is a smaller arm, making for a more intimate transaction. Fertilization then occurs and the female carries around several thousand maturing eggs until they hatch. She stops eating before laying her eggs, and observations suggest she dies soon after brooding.

The wunderpus is often mistaken for the mimic octopus, but inspection reveals its stripes and spots to be more sharply defined. The wunderpus also has a higher sperm count than its shape-shifting lookalike. Of course, differentiating the two on this basis would require some truly close observation.

One extraordinary ability of the wunderpus: it can lose an appendage at will, should some urgent situation arise, and regrow the arm later. An example of those urgent situations? Mating, during which female-on-male acts of cannibalism can occur. Nothing, however, is more lethal to the wunderpus at this point than human attempts to raise it in captivity. The knowledge gap is simply too great. And so, for now, its generically appreciative Latin name seems appropriate.   

Credits

  • Cinematography - Nannette Van Antwerp
  • Original music - Julio Monterrey
  • Sound design - Noah Cole
  • Edit - Erinn Springer
  • Color - Evan Allan
  • Illustration - Maria Hooper
  • Title design - Christie Little
  • Text - Chelsea Gohd

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