Octopuses torture and eat each other after mating. Science finally knows why.

Many animal species die after reproduction. But in octopus mothers, this decline is particularly alarming: in most species, when a mother octopus’ eggs approach hatching, she stops eating. She then leaves her protective platoon on her offspring and leans on self-destruction. She could fight against a rock, tear her skin, even eat pieces of her own arms.

Now researchers have discovered the chemicals that seem to control this deadly frenzy. After an octopus lays eggs, it experiences changes in the production and use of cholesterol in its body, which in turn increases its production of steroid hormones – a biochemical change that will doom it. Some of the changes may hint at processes that explain invertebrate longevity more generally, said Z. Yan Wang, assistant professor of psychology and biology at the University of Washington.

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