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A bit morbid, zombie octopus

Mar 24, 2024
Gig Harbor WA, USA
Yesterday while tidepooling at Freshwater Bat in Wa state, I came across a very recently dead, half eaten giant pacific octopus. It was likely the work of a river otter, seen in the same area foraging.
The octo was half eaten, the arms almost completely severed, no head to speak of and the mantle was in bad shape.
By all accounts at this animals was dead. BUT when I investigated, it was able to suction on to my fingers. And not just the mechanical suction that happens when you push against a suction cup and it sticks, but the whole arm, sucking on to me, rocks and kelp. Limited movement, but definitely some, especially at the ends of the arms where it gets a few mm wide.

My morbid question is, how long can an octopus live once it’s been severed from the main brain? I know in many invertebrates life continues until the individual cells run out of oxygen, but what’s the case with octopus? I hate to think of how long those arms were tasting and moving around, feeling pain, and suffering.

Please excuse my apparent excitement, I’m really good at staying positive for my kids but I’ve been thinking of this poor octopus’ last moments all day and night.


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Huh, very interesting! I wonder if @Steve O'Shea out there has any insight or opinion on this, or @robyn. If I recall, it can go on surprisingly long (perhaps a few minutes)? Did you stay around long enough to see it stop responding? Thanks for sharing!
I didn’t stay until it finally stopped but it was easily 10 minutes before I moved on down the beach.
The arms can continue to produce coordinated motion - including suction - for 30 minutes or more in my experience. There is a lot of vasculature in the arm that can continue supplying oxygen to the tissues and the arm nervous system contains many peripheral reflex networks that produce these behaviors. In a live animal, these networks allow for high-speed responses to sensory input (because sending info to the brain and waiting for commands to come back would take too long to ever capture prey successfully). It is highly unlikely though that these networks are capable of emotional processing; the organization of the ganglia makes it improbable that the arm is "aware". The arm is similar to our spinal cord. So I don't think you should worry about the arm suffering. Assuming the central brain of the animal was destroyed in the predation event, the conscious part of the animal is dead even though the arm still moves and behaves.
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