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300 hatchlings, 2,400 tiny arms

Rosenblatt is a Times staff writer.

Even eight arms may not be enough to keep up with this brood: After laying eggs two months ago, an octopus at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point has 300 tiny hatchlings. The rice-grain-size baby octopuses have spent their first days of life floating around their tank and eating brine shrimp, said chief aquarium biologist Julianne E. Steers.

Now 4 millimeters long -- a little more than an eighth of an inch -- the creatures can grow up to 3 feet and live for about two years. Their mother, a two-spot octopus native to the California coast, is nearing the end of her life cycle. The species is named for the circular blue spots on the sides of the head.

Steers caught the hardy two-spot in September 2007 under a scientific permit to use it in educational programs at the institute.

She didn’t know if the female’s eggs were fertilized, and the octopus has had no male companionship since she arrived at the nonprofit institute, which is dedicated to ocean education. The creature can store male sperm for a year or more.

In the wild, just a handful of the young octopuses would survive; Steers is hoping that about 30 of the institute’s hatchlings will make it to adulthood, when they will graduate to eating crabs and other crustaceans.

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Their mother -- unnamed, as are all the animals at the institute -- tended the eggs faithfully, cleaning and aerating them, without stopping to feed herself, Steers said.

And she didn’t have time for her usual entertainment: unscrewing jars to find treats, dismantling Mrs. Potato Head toys and taking apart Legos.

The hatching began Monday and has continued much of the week, with the mother hovering protectively during the process.

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susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com


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