Marine Biology

, Volume 154, Issue 2, pp 353–362 | Cite as

Mating behavior of Abdopus aculeatus (d’Orbigny 1834) (Cephalopoda: Octopodidae) in the wild

  • Christine L. HuffardEmail author
  • Roy L. Caldwell
  • Farnis Boneka
Research Article


The mating system of Abdopus aculeatus incorporates sneaker matings, mate guarding, sex-specific body patterns, frequent copulations, and male–male competition for mates, making it more similar to that of aggregating decapod cephalopods than any previously known octopus social system. Large male–female A. aculeatus occupy ‘Adjacent’ (GA) dens and copulate frequently in mate-guarding situations over successive days. Nearby individuals copulate in ‘Temporary guarding’ (GT) and ‘Transient’ (T; non-guarding) situations, the latter of which can involve ‘Sneaker’ (S) mating. In a focal animal study of these octopuses in the wild (Sulawesi, Indonesia) we addressed the hypotheses that they demonstrate: (1) precopulatory mate choice, (2) differential copulation rates by individuals employing different mating tactics, and (3) distant sex identification. We quantified daily copulation rates of A. aculeatus of reproductive size as well as aspects of copulation duration, display, mate-competition, and mate rejection. Mating tactic correlated with daily copulation rates. ♂GA spent significantly more time copulating than did ♂T, while ♀GA spent more than twice as much time per day in copula than did other females. Sneaker copulations lasted longer than those by males adopting other tactics. Mate-guarding was an effective and important tactic used by males to temporarily monopolize mating with apparently non-selective females. Males demonstrated clear pre-copulatory mate choice by guarding and mating repeatedly with large females (typically ♀GA). While foraging alone away from the den, ♂G procured ‘Transient’ copulations with unguarded females. However, mate-guarding reduced the amount of time ♂G were alone and may impede their ability to seek out new mates. Low-copulation rates by ♀T, the smallest female tactic on average, may reflect this trade-off between mate preference and mate-searching by males, or non-receptivity of some females. A male-typical body pattern (black and white stripes) appeared to facilitate distant sex identification. Although mating and aggression were often initiated before contact between individuals, same-sex copulations and intense male–female aggression were rare. By contrast frequent male–female copulations and intense male–male aggression were consistent behavioral components of mating in A. aculeatus at these sites. Because the behavioral and ecological characters conducive to this complex system are not exclusive to A. aculeatus, it is possible that other octopuses exhibit some or all of these behaviors.


Mantle Length Mating Tactic Mating Attempt Copulation Rate Sneak Male 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) for granting permission to conduct this work. Financial support was provided by the Beim Endowment for Field Research, Sigma Xi, University of California, the Western Society of Malacologists, and the American Malacological Society grants to CLH. Dr. Helen Fox provided airfare to Indonesia on several occasions, and Operation Wallacea supported fieldwork in Southeast Sulawesi. Michael Caldwell, Heather Spalding, Brendan Hever, and Operation Wallacea participants volunteered their assistance in the water. Dr. Mark Erdmann, Arnaz Mehta, and Tanta Ita kindly provided support, entertainment, and language training to CLH. Four anonymous reviewers helpfully reviewed the final draft of this manuscript. This research complies with all current laws in Indonesia and the USA.

Supplementary material

227_2008_930_MOESM1_ESM.mpg (1.3 mb)
Video S1: Abdopus aculeatus mating in the wild. Note 1) ‘BWS’ 21 body pattern on the side of the male facing the ochre female, 2) white hectocotylus extending 22 from male (left) to female (right), and 3) attempt by female to catch prey in her web (MPG 1306 kb)
227_2008_930_MOESM2_ESM.mpg (676 kb)
Video S2: Abdopus aculeatus mating in the wild. Note 1) ‘BWS’ 15 body pattern on the side of the male facing the ochre female, 2) white hectocotylus extending 16 from male (left) to female (right) stretched nearly than twice its resting length, and 3) small 17 trevaly (Caranx sp.) and cigar wrasse (Chelio inermis) near pair (MPG 676 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine L. Huffard
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Roy L. Caldwell
    • 1
  • Farnis Boneka
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Monterey Bay Aquarium Research InstituteMoss LandingUSA
  3. 3.Department of Fisheries and Marine ScienceUniversitas Sam RatulangiManado, North SulawesiIndonesia

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