Gender Bending / Cross Dressing Marine Animal: The Octopus

Written by: Neira Eclarinal


Why Do Some Octopuses Cross-Dress? The Strange and Spectacular Tactics of Mating Survival

Introduction: Ever Wondered About Octopus Love Lives?

Did you know that the romantic escapades of octopuses could be straight out of a spy novel? Yeah, you heard that right! These crafty creatures of the sea are not just about slinking silently through the waters, they’ve got some serious strategy up their—well, sleeves isn't quite right, let’s say tentacles! Imagine needing to sneak past a beefy guard to whisper sweet nothings to your crush. High stakes, but in the ocean, it’s just another day for a male Abdopus aculeatus octopus. Stick around, and I promise, by the end of this post, you’ll look at these brainy, bendy creatures in a whole new light!

So, What's with the Cross-Dressing?

Undercover Males

Imagine you are a smaller male octopus, seeing a potential mate guarded by a much larger, intimidating male. What do you do? Fight and potentially get squished? No way! Some clever male octopuses opt for a different strategy—impersonating females! By changing their skin color and texture, and even altering their behavior, these guys can sneak past dominant males and win a chance to mate. It’s like a masquerade ball under the sea, but the stakes are life and death… and future generations!

A color-switching octopus blending into coral reefs

Why Go Through All This Trouble?

It's all about passing on those genes! In the wild, avoiding conflict and still managing to reproduce is a winning strategy. This gender mimicry not only helps them avoid a tussle with bigger males but also slides them right under the radar to woo waiting females.

The Deception Is in the Details

The Art of Octopus Camouflage

Octopuses are masters of disguise. Their skin can change to match the textures and colors of their surroundings thanks to special cells called chromatophores. But it’s not just about blending in with rocks or coral; they use this ability to mimic the opposite gender too. 

How Do They Do It?

To pull off their female disguise, these male octopuses might tuck their more masculine features away and adopt behaviors typically seen in females, like a gentler swimming style. Some even mimic the way a female would carry eggs to complete the illusion.

male (on the left), female (on the right) octopus blending into coral reefs

But, Can Female Octopuses Tell the Difference?

Interestingly, female octopi seem to be quite accepting of these cross-dressing males. Maybe it provides them a break from the aggression of dominant males, or perhaps these males come across as less threatening and more approachable. It’s a curious aspect of octopus behavior that even researchers are still trying to fully understand.

Survival and Reproduction: The Octopus Way

It's a Tough Life Out There

For octopi, life isn’t just a casual stroll in the park, or a peaceful drift in ocean currents. It’s a short, intense journey filled with peril. Most octopuses will only breed once in their lifetime. After mating, males wander off, quickly weakening and dying, while females guard their eggs until they hatch, and then they too pass on. This intense reproductive strategy makes their deceptive mating tactics even more critical. Every successful encounter counts!

A color-switching octopus blending into kelp forests

What Can We Learn from These Underwater Houdinis?

Beyond Survival: Insights into Adaptability and Intelligence

Octopus behavior is a spectacular showcase of adaptability and problem-solving. While it might be easy to think of animals as operating purely on instinct, octopuses challenge us to consider the complexity of their cognitive processes. They assess risks, adapt their strategies based on their environment, and make choices that increase their chances of survival.

In Conclusion: Masterminds of the Marine

Examining the unique behaviors of the Abdopus aculeatus octopus not only widens our understanding of marine life but also offers insights into evolution’s quirky yet effective solutions to life’s challenges. From cross-dressing to crafty survival tactics, octopuses are a testament to the wonders of wildlife strategy and intelligence.

Ready to Dive Deeper?

Inspired by our eight-armed friends? Why not take a leaf out of their book? Just like octopuses adapt to their environment, we can make changes in our lives for our well-being and survival. Start small: embrace a change, try a new approach to a challenge, or even pick up a new hobby. Who knows? You might find your own ingenious way to navigate life’s big ocean!

And, if you're fascinated by the mysterious world of octopuses, head down to your nearest aquarium or dive into some ocean documentaries. Witness firsthand the incredible world beneath the waves and, just maybe, catch a glimpse of these cunning cephalopods in action!