Naturally, the eggs started hatching on Saturday – ”the worst possible day,” according to Biomes Marine Biology Center's Mark Hall.
Saturday is Hall’s day off and the center was busy with a birthday party. But suddenly the staff noticed something was going on with Pearl, the rare reef octopus they’ve had since September.
Pearl’s eggs were starting to hatch.
She’d been wedged into a high corner of the aquarium, not eating, not moving from that spot, for the past six weeks. Now the little octopuses (not octopi, says Hall) were swimming all over the tank, barely perceptible.
In their excitement, the staff told Hall there were “1,000” babies. However, he thinks it was actually fewer than that, although it’s impossible to know.
As soon as they knew the eggs were hatching, they turned off the filter so the tiny babies wouldn’t be sucked in.
The next issue was getting them food. Because it was the weekend, Hall wasn’t able to get the colony of plankton he needed from Roger William University until Monday.
“We may have lost a few because they went two days with no food.”
The plankton looks more like dust in the water, but the babies are eating it up. According to Hall, they’ve already doubled in size.
“I’m feeding them probably 10 or 15 times a day.”
Using a magnifying glass, you can see the babies as they move through the water. They look like translucent squid.
Biomes has already given many away to other institutions. In the wild, Hall said, maybe only two or three of the babies would survive, out of hundreds hatched. But he’s hopeful in Biomes’ more controlled atmosphere, the survival number will be higher.
As for Pearl, she’s still got a few eggs – maybe 50, Hall estimates – to hatch. They hang in a strand from one of her tenticles, like tiny … pearls (see the video). When one hatches, she convulses her body repeatedly to push it away from her. Then she resumes her last task on this earth – waiting for her eggs to hatch.According to Hall, the lifecycle of a reef octopus is about a year. After they have babies, they die. He expects Pearl will die within weeks.
Good job, Pearl! And, thanks.
Biomes Marine Biology Center, 6640 Post Road, North Kingstown, R.I. (401-885-4690) is open Monday-Friday noon to 5 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays are reserved for private birthday parties.