, 21:131 | Cite as

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. WilliamsEmail author
  • Vanessa Lovenburg
  • Christine L. Huffard
  • Roy L. Caldwell
Research Paper


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 



The UC Berkeley ACUC authorized this research (protocol #R302-0407). The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority provided a collecting permit to BLW and RLC for Haptosquilla trispinosa (#G05/13381.1). Dr. Charles Hanifin at Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, and Dr. Edmund D. Brodie, Jr. at Utah State University provided assistance with HPLC analyses. Stephanie Bush, Julie Himes, and Calida Martinez assisted in the animal behavior lab and at Octopus’ Garden pet store in Berkeley, CA. We would like to thank the owner of Octopus Gardens, Erin Janoff, and an employee, Laith Shabbas, for their indispensable help identifying fish and for logistical support. The manuscript benefited from comments by Dr. Akira Mori at Kyoto University, Maya DeVries, Stephanie Bush, Joey Pakes, Jean Alupay, Dr. Dustin Rubenstein, and Dr. David Lindberg at UC Berkeley, and Krista Heideman, Dr. Jamie Howard, Anne Jacobs, and Anna Garliss at New Mexico State University. Funding was provided by a Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid-of-Research and the Department of Integrative Biology, at UC Berkeley.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Becky L. Williams
    • 1
    Email author
  • Vanessa Lovenburg
    • 2
  • Christine L. Huffard
    • 3
  • Roy L. Caldwell
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Biology, MSC 3AFNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  2. 2.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of California, BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Conservation International IndonesiaDenpasarIndonesia

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