Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 10–17 | Cite as

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

  • Becky L. WilliamsEmail author
  • Charles T. Hanifin
  • Edmund D. BrodieJr.
  • Roy L. Caldwell


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 



David Baxter provided H. fasciata natural history information and assistance collecting in Manly. Collecting permits for H. fasciata were supplied by the New South Wales Fisheries Department, Australia (permit #s P05/0101-1.0 & P05/0101-2.0). Julie Himes provided help with animal care and octopus breeding at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB). Drs. Michael Pfrender, Daryll DeWald, Jon Takemoto, and Paul Wolf at Utah State University (USU) shared equipment and advice. Dr. Daniel Mulcahy at Brigham Young University volunteered for fieldwork and Dr. Christine Huffard at Monterey Bay Research Institute assisted with octopus dissections. We thank Dr. Isao Kubo for discussions on the structure and chemistry of TTX. Stephanie Bush, Joey Pakes, Jean Alupay, and Dr. David Lindberg at UCB, Dr. Christine Huffard at MBARI, and Dr. Christopher Feldman at the University of Nevada, Reno, provided comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript and their aid was appreciated. The Department of Integrative Biology (UCB) and the University of California Museum Of Paleontology funded this project through the Summer Research Grant and Graduate Student Research Grant to BLW. Funding was also provided by NSF grant #DEB-031572 to EDB Jr.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Becky L. Williams
    • 1
    Email author
  • Charles T. Hanifin
    • 2
  • Edmund D. BrodieJr.
    • 3
  • Roy L. Caldwell
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of BiologyNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  2. 2.Hopkins Marine StationStanford UniversityPacific GroveUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  4. 4.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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