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What do female octopus do to males?

Octopuses have fascinating and complex mating behaviors. Here is a look at what female octopuses do to male octopuses during the mating process.

Why Do Octopuses Mate?

Like all animals, octopuses mate for reproductive purposes. The goal is for the male to fertilize the female’s eggs so that she can lay them and they can hatch into baby octopuses.

Octopuses do not mate for life. They will have a single mating encounter, during which the male will fertilize a portion of the female’s eggs. The female can store sperm from this encounter to fertilize additional batches of eggs over time.

How Do Octopuses Mate?

There are over 300 species of octopus, and mating behaviors can vary between species. However, there are some commonalities:

  • Mating usually occurs head-to-head.
  • The male uses a specialized tentacle called a hectocotylus to transfer sperm to the female.
  • The male inserts the hectocotylus into the female’s mantle (body) cavity to fertilize her eggs.
  • Mating can last anywhere from a few minutes to over an hour.

In most species, the male dies soon after mating. The female will lay between 100,000 to 500,000 eggs. She cares for them by spending weeks brooding over them, protecting them and keeping them aerated and clean until they hatch.

Do Females Mate With Multiple Males?

In some species, females will mate with multiple males. For example, the California two-spot octopus is known to mate with up to six males. This results in greater genetic diversity among offspring.

However, in other species, the female will mate with just one male. For example, the giant Pacific octopus typically mates with a single male.

Do Females Kill and Eat Males?

There are a few species in which the female octopus will kill and eat the male after mating. This includes the Octopus cyanea and the Octopus vulgaris.

It is thought this behavior evolved because the male octopus dies shortly after mating anyway. By eating the male, the female gains extra nutrition that can help her health and the development of her eggs.

However, it’s important to note this does not occur in all, or even most, octopus species. In many species, the female does not eat the male after mating.

Female Octopus Mating Behaviors

Here are some specific mating behaviors displayed by female octopuses:

Mate Selection

Females are choosy, and will reject some male mating attempts. They seem to select larger males who can provide better spermatophores (sperm packets).


Females may attack and bite males prior to mating. It is thought this helps females assess male fitness.

Den Sharing

In some species, the female allows the male to share her den for several days before and after mating. This protects both animals from predators during the vulnerable mating period.

Egg Laying

Once fertilized, the female will lay her eggs then spend time brooding over them, protecting them and keeping them clean and aerated.


As mentioned, some females will mate with multiple males. Even if she mates with just one, she can store the sperm to fertilize multiple batches of eggs over her lifespan.

Male Octopus Mating Behaviors

Here are some behaviors displayed by male octopuses during the mating process:

Mating Dance

The male will sometimes perform elaborate mating dances to signal his intent to the female. This involves changing colors, bobbing movements, stretching tentacles, and complex body postures.


As mentioned, sometimes the female will bite the male. The male will wrestle back. It’s thought this wrestling allows assessment of physical fitness.

Den Excavation

Prior to mating, the male prepares a den for him and the female to share. He uses rocks and other objects to block the entrance for privacy and protection.

Hectocotylus Insertion

The male uses his specialized hectocotylus tentacle to insert sperm sacs into the female’s mantle for egg fertilization.


After mating, the male becomes lethargic and dies within a few months. Some species only live for 6 months after reaching sexual maturity.

Octopus Reproduction Facts

Here are some key facts about octopus reproduction:

  • Octopuses are semelparous – they reproduce once then die.
  • Lifespan is 1-2 years in most species.
  • Females produce 100,000 – 500,000 eggs.
  • Only 1-2 eggs per 10,000 survive to become adults.
  • Octopuses do not mate for life or form pair bonds.
  • The male dies a few months after mating.
  • The female can store sperm to fertilize multiple batches of eggs.


Octopus mating is a complex process during which both males and females engage in elaborate behaviors. While mating strategies vary between species, we see some common themes of mate selection, females being choosy, males competing for access, and tragically short lifespans after reproduction.

The fact that some female octopuses kill and eat the male after mating shows the high reproductive costs males incur. By understanding these costs, and the reasons behind sometimes cannibalistic tendencies, we gain insight into the evolutionary drivers behind octopus mating strategies.