Ocean explorers discover 4 new species of deep-sea octopus, scientists say

A team of scientists has discovered four new species of octopus in the waters off Costa Rica, the Schmidt Ocean Institute said Tuesday. 

So far, only one of the new species of deep-sea octopus has been named. All four new species, found in a 100-square-mile-sized area off Costa Rica, are in the process of being given formal scientific descriptions.

Brooding octopus
According to the Schmidt Ocean Institute, brooding mother octopuses often curl themselves up. Their tentacles and suckers face out in what researchers believe to be a defensive position, warning predators off. Schmidt Ocean Institute

The researchers are calling the named species the dorado octopus, named for an outcrop of rock where it was found known as El Dorado Hill. The dorado octopus is a new species of Muusoctopus, related to the pearl octopus, the researchers said.

Researchers found the octopus nursery off Costa Rica in 2013, but at the time, scientists said they didn't see any developing embryos, which led them to believe conditions there were not conducive to the birth of baby octopuses. That changed last year when researchers returned to the area and saw octopuses hatch

The team of scientists found two octopus nurseries in June and returned six months later to study the area further, according to the Schmidt Ocean Institute. 

"Through hard work, our team discovered new hydrothermal springs offshore Costa Rica and confirmed that they host nurseries of deep-sea octopus and unique biodiversity," Dr. Beth Orcutt of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences said. "It was less than a decade ago that low-temperature hydrothermal venting was confirmed on ancient volcanoes away from mid-ocean ridges. These sites are significantly difficult to find since you cannot detect their signatures in the water column."

The dorado octopus was the only one of the newly discovered species that was seen brooding eggs at the area's hydrothermal springs.    

Brooding can last several years for an octopus, researchers said. 

A new octopus hatchling swims
A new octopus hatchling swims away from its egg near a small outcrop of rock unofficially called El Dorado Hill.  Schmidt Ocean Institute

Octopuses often brood in warm waters to reduce the amount of time it takes for the eggs to hatch.

Between the June and December expeditions, researchers collected more than 310 deep-sea specimens, according to the Schmidt Ocean Institute. They're being archived at the Museum of Zoology at the University of Costa Rica. 

Samples are usually sent to the U.S. or Europe, but housing the specimens in Costa Rica will allow local scientists to study them. The research could help inform future policies to protect local waters, Dr. Jorge Cortés of the University of Costa Rica said.

"I hope that the expedition serves as an inspiration for new generations," Cortés said. "We need more international collaborations to advance knowledge of our deep-sea heritage."

There are around 300 species of octopus worldwide, living in all of the world's oceans.  

— Li Cohen contributed reporting.  

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