Octopus Monday: The heartbeat monitor screenplay

I’ve been spending the last few evenings coughing dramatically (it’s the tail end of a cold and I feel like not enough attention is being paid), catching up on Breaking Bad (because when you have a cough the best thing to do is watch a man cough his way through a lung cancer diagnosis and into crystal meth business ownership) and watching videos of heart rate monitors (I’m a nerd, cough or no cough).

I’ll pop a few of the videos below in case you find them as interesting as I do but they also led me to this fascinating account of octopus heart activity on Cephalove.

If you have the time you should read the accompanying piece because octopuses and their triple heart arrangement are fascinating but the gist is that when an octopus is startled, one of its hearts stops momentarily. When a male octopus is bonking a female octopus (bonking is totally a technical term) a similar thing happens.

Here’s the annotated heart rate chart from a study by MJ Wells in 1978 so you can see what’s going on:


I like how the scientific data representation tells a story where it’s all too easy to anthropomorphise the octopuses. It feels more like a screenplay than cardiac information.

The male is a little bit surprised when the female joins the tank, then more surprised when she takes an interest, then apparently hugely taken aback when he finds himself leaping upon her. And then each of his three sperm packets causes no small amount of consternation.

The blog does not report on whether the female was similarly astonished by the encounter. Probably not because at no point during the bonking is she in danger of being eaten. The same cannot be said of the male octopus.