Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 10-17

First online:

Ontogeny of Tetrodotoxin Levels in Blue-ringed Octopuses: Maternal Investment and Apparent Independent Production in Offspring of Hapalochlaena lunulata

  • Becky L. WilliamsAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, New Mexico State University Email author 
  • , Charles T. HanifinAffiliated withHopkins Marine Station, Stanford University
  • , Edmund D. BrodieJr.Affiliated withDepartment of Biology, Utah State University
  • , Roy L. CaldwellAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of California

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Many organisms provision offspring with antipredator chemicals. Adult blue-ringed octopuses (Hapalochlaena spp.) harbor tetrodotoxin (TTX), which may be produced by symbiotic bacteria. Regardless of the ultimate source, we find that females invest TTX into offspring and offspring TTX levels are significantly correlated with female TTX levels. Because diversion of TTX to offspring begins during the earliest stages of egg formation, when females are still actively foraging and looking for mates, females may face an evolutionary tradeoff between provisioning larger stores of TTX in eggs and retaining that TTX for their own defense and offense (venom). Given that total TTX levels appear to increase during development and that female TTX levels correlate with those of offspring, investment may be an active adaptive process. Even after eggs have been laid, TTX levels continue to increase, suggesting that offspring or their symbionts begin producing TTX independently. The maternal investment of TTX in offspring of Hapalochlaena spp. represents a rare examination of chemical defenses, excepting ink, in cephalopods.

Key Words

Tetrodotoxin Blue-ringed octopus Hapalochlaena lunulata Hapalochlaena fasciata Maternal investment Egg Paralarva Ontogeny