From “The Amazing E-mail Letters
of Dr. Maria Marinario
and Dr. Humphrey Ichovitzsky”
Dear Dr. Ichovitzsky:
I recently read your article, “The Sex Life of Starfish,” and viewed the accompanying video with your photograph on its cover. I found it all most elucidating. I perfected my Ph.D. thesis, “The Sex Life of Octopuses” (due to be published in the March edition of Sea Legs), last night, and I must tell you that there are striking similarities between starfish and octopuses when it comes to the mating ritual; the only striking difference is (of course) the role reversal. As you discovered, it is the male starfish that gives birth, a breathtaking phenomenon, rare in nature.
When a male octopus is in heat, he wriggles his legs, just as a female starfish wriggles her points. By employing a marine audio laser, I was able to hear the subtle song of the male octopus in heat, as he wriggles his feet. Oddly enough, it sounds like a cross between Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” and an obscure folk song by Béla Bartók that has never been published or performed. You can imagine: the song is riveting. It attracts all female octopuses within a radius of 31 miles. What happens next is truly esoteric. The female octopuses vie ferociously for first place with the male, forming a totally out-of-control football huddle. It’s exceedingly difficult to tell what’s actually going on without employing sea-opera binoculars, which, as I’m sure you know, are very hard to find. I procured a pair and was thus able to discern a rhythmic flapping of a plenitude of legs all entwined. My audio laser registered a hissing whisper.
Eventually, the legs of the female octopuses form a tight sailors’ octomillecross knot and when that occurs, the male octopus jumps onto the knot as if it were a trampoline. During the ensuing mating ritual, the male bounces on this knot at a rate of 53 bounces per second and the voices of the male octopus and the female octopuses crescendo to attain an almost inaudible high-pitched screech, similar in tonality to the death song of the Samoan conch (with which I am sure you’re familiar) but also reminiscent of the screech uttered by the male starfish.
This bouncing and screeching activity lasts for 3 to 346 seconds, depending on the age and physical endurance of the male octopus, who collapses and dies when he can no longer keep it up. At that point, the female octopuses sing a dirge remarkably similar to the 17th mournful aria sung by Isolde in that opera by Wagner.
At least half of the female octopuses give birth to baby octopuses (affectionately termed “little leggies”) within the following three days. This gestation period, is of course, identical to that of the male starfish.
I propose that we get together for a pint to discuss the ramifications of our research. Just let me know when and where and I will make myself entirely disposable. I understand that you have been studying the mating habits of the Fijian sea worm. What a fascinating project! You must tell me all about it. Incidentally, I am 6’2,” with long red hair, green eyes, and well developed mammary glands.
(soon to be Dr. Maria Marinario)
Carol Novack likes swimming. She lives in New York City without any fish. A book of her poems was published in Australia, where she received a creative writer's grant. Carol's poetry and prose have appeared in various journals and anthologies. Recent writings are forthcoming in Wild Strawberries, Smokelong Quarterly, Edifice Wrecked, The Beat (U.K.), and laurahird.com.