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Four new species of deep-sea octopus discovered near Costa Rica

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(NEW YORK) — Scientists have discovered at least four new species of octopus in the deep waters of a 100-square-mile area near Costa Rica, officials from the Schmidt Ocean Institute said on Tuesday.


An international team of scientists aboard Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor (too) discovered the new species last year during two expeditions where they were examining seamounts off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, officials said in their announcement.

“The team found two octopus nurseries affiliated with hydrothermal springs during their first expedition in June,” said the Schmidt Ocean Institute. “Six months later, scientists returned to the nurseries and confirmed they appear to be active year-round. They also observed several other new octopus species away from the hydrothermal springs.”

Both of the expeditions were led by Drs. Beth Orcutt of the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Jorge Cortés of the University of Costa Rica and the four species are currently being described by Dr. Janet Voight, associate curator of invertebrate zoology from the Field Museum of Natural History and Fiorella Vasquez from the Zoological Museum at the University of Costa Rica, officials said.

“Brooding mother octopuses often curl themselves up with tentacles and suckers facing out,” scientists said announcing their discovery. “Researchers believe this to be a defensive position, warning predators off. When a female octopus broods (which can be a timespan of multiple years), she does not eat and dies around the same time her eggs hatch.”

The cephalopods were observed near a small outcrop of rock unofficially called El Dorado Hill of the coast of Costa Rica and, because of this, one of the new octopuses — a new species of Muusoctopus — will be named Dorado Octopus after the initial location of discovery, scientists said.

“It is a related but distinct species from the Pearl Octopus found at Davidson Seamount in California in 2018, the site of another deep-sea octopus nursery,” said the Schmidt Ocean Institute. “Of the four new Costa Rica species, only the Dorado octopus was observed brooding their eggs at hydrothermal springs. The discovery adds to evidence that the Muusoctopus genus has evolved to brood their eggs in warm springs on the seafloor.”

In total, over 160 deep-sea animal specimens were collected from the latest expedition in December, and they will all be archived at the Museum of Zoology at the University of Costa Rica, adding to the 150 specimens collected in June, scientists announced.

“This marks one of the first times that all biological specimens will be housed within the Latin American country from which they were acquired following a deep-sea expedition, rather than being sent to the United States or Europe,” officials said. “Housing the collection in Costa Rica enables local scientists and students to easily access samples for research, with the potential to inform regional management strategies for the deep sea.”

“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,” said Orcutt. “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.”

In addition to the new species of octopus, several other exciting discoveries from the exhibitions were also announced.

“The science team found a thriving deep-sea skate nursery at the top of another seamount in Costa Rican waters, nicknaming the site Skate Park,” scientists said. “The team also located three hydrothermal springs in the region, 10 to 30 nautical miles from each other. The springs all have different fluid temperatures and chemistries from one another, indicating unique reaction processes are facilitating their formation.”

In 2024, the Schmidt Ocean Institute have further plans to operate in the waters off of Peru and Chile to continue their research.

“The impact of the R/V Falkor (too) expeditions on understanding the deep Pacific waters of Costa Rica will last into the future and hopefully create awareness that evolves into policies to protect the deep sea of the country,” said Cortés, “I hope that the expedition serves as an inspiration for new generations. We need more international collaborations to advance knowledge of our deep-sea heritage.”

 

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