Research Paper


, 21:131

First online:

Chemical defense in pelagic octopus paralarvae: Tetrodotoxin alone does not protect individual paralarvae of the greater blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata) from common reef predators

  • Becky L. WilliamsAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, MSC 3AF, New Mexico State University Email author 
  • , Vanessa LovenburgAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley
  • , Christine L. HuffardAffiliated withConservation International Indonesia
  • , Roy L. CaldwellAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley

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Some pelagic marine larvae possess anti-predator chemical defenses. Occasionally, toxic adults imbue their young with their own defensive cocktails. We examined paralarvae of the greater blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena lunulata) for the deadly neurotoxin tetrodotoxin (TTX), and if present, whether TTX conferred protection to individual paralarvae. Paralarvae of H. lunulata possessed 150 ± 17 ng TTX each. These paralarvae appeared distasteful to a variety of fish and stomatopod predators, yet food items spiked with 200 ng TTX were readily consumed by predators. We conclude that TTX alone does not confer individual protection to paralarvae of H. lunulata, and that they possess an alternative defense. In larger doses, tetrodotoxin is a deterrent to the predatory stomatopod Haptosquilla trispinosa (mean dose = 3.97 μg/g). This corresponds to 12–13 paralarvae per predator based on the TTX levels of the clutch we examined. Thus, the basic assumption that individual paralarvae of H. lunulata are defended by TTX alone was disproved. Instead, functionality of TTX levels in paralarvae may arise through alternative selective pathways, such as deterrence to parasites, through kin selection, or against predator species not tested here.


Chemical defense Cephalopod blue-ringed octopus Hapalochlaena lunulata Palatability Tetrodotoxin Paralarvae Pelagic larvae