Original Articles

The life history of the giant octopus Octopus magnificus in South African waters


Octopus magnificus is a regular bycatch of traps set for spiny lobsters and bottom trawls for Cape hakes Merluccius spp. on the continental shelf of South Africa. Octopuses were collected from rocky substrata (traps) and soft sediments (research trawls) during a three-year period (2002–2005) and over a wide geographical and depth range to investigate their basic biological and life-history characteristics. Octopuses collected from trawl nets were smaller than those from traps. Males from traps and trawl nets were larger than females, with males being more frequently caught in traps than females. Size distributions were seasonally cyclical, increasing from a small mean size in the austral winter to a peak in summer, and receding during autumn. No mature females were found on soft sediments. The female gonadosomatic index peaked during summer, and sperm were found in oviducts year-round. Males reached 50% maturity at a weight of 4.6kg compared with 5.8kg in females. Mature females produced up to 10 000 medium-to-large (4–9mm maximum length) eggs, and potential fecundity was positively related to female body and ovary weight. Feeding rates were highest in trap-caught octopuses and gut contents consisted mainly of bait, spiny lobsters and teleosts (mainly jacopever Helicolenus dactylopterus). The gut contents of trawl-caught octopuses consisted mainly of crustaceans (84%), mostly portunid crabs but no spiny lobsters, teleosts (15%) and molluscs (1%). The results suggest that O. magnificus has a short (c. 1 year) lifespan, with winter/spring recruitment, a summer spawning peak, and post-spawning mortality in autumn. Alternatively, the species may have a longer lifespan with seasonal migrations between rocky and soft substrata.

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