So You Know, This Is How to Incubate Baby Cephalopods in a Soda Bottle

Behold, the marine-lifehack
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Monterey Bay Aquarium

Say you find yourself, as one occasionally does, in need of incubating some baby cuttlefish. Say you don't have a lot of money, as one occasionally does not, to do the incubating of said cuttlefish. 

Over at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, marine biologists and curators found themselves in exactly this situation as they were preparing for their upcoming special exhibition: "Tentacles," which will feature cephalopods like octopi, squid, and, yes, cuttlefish. They had mother cuttlefish. They wanted to maximize the number of healthy hatchlings that could result from a given clutch, or collection of eggs. And nature, they realized, isn't always the best way to do this survival-maximization: Mothers can forget where they leave their eggs—or, even when they remember, neglect them. Which, if you're trying to increase cuttlefish populations, is not ideal. Removing the eggs and raising them separately, the aquarist Bret Grasse points out, "allows mom to focus on what she does best: laying more eggs."

Monterey Bay Aquarium

So, again: Say you need to incubate some baby cuttlefish. Say you'd prefer to do so without buying commercial incubators that can cost hundreds of dollars a pop. Say you'd prefer a more DIY solution.

Well, here is that solution! All you'll need are soda bottles, netting material, plastic tubing, and silicone glue. Oh, and some cuttlefish eggs. 

In an Aquarium Tumblr post, Grasse describes his MacGyver-y methods for cuttlefish maturation. First, drink the soda. (Or, you know, empty the bottle of it.) Second, cut the bottle in half, and then affix a screen between the two pieces and also at the open end. (The idea is to create a water-permeable barrier between the inside and outside of the bottle.) Place your cuttlefish eggs into the screen-contained section of the bottle. Plunge the bottle underwater, eggs-side down. Then attach a tube that will inject air into the top half of the bottle, turning it into a "bubbler." The tube will draw water up through the whole device, aerating the eggs.

And then? Wait. "Eventually," the Aquarium notes, "the faintest trace of a baby cuttlefish appears in the egg, and an eyespot." After a few weeks, you'll have free-swimming hatchlings. They'll be approximately the size of a pea. But they'll grow, over the course of three months or so, to a length of about three inches.

Monterey Bay Aquarium

And there you have it: cuttlefish incubation that costs a couple bucks—and comes, should you like it, with a side of soda.

"It looks like mad science, but it works," the Aquarium puts it. Grasse has been honing his hacked system over the course of about four years. And to date, he's produced hundreds of baby cuttlefish using it. "We’re so fortunate to have the opportunity to experiment with these techniques," he tells the Aquarium. The hacked incubators can not only play a role in exhibitions like "Tentacle," but they can also take a bit of pressure off wild stocks of cuttlefish. Plus they've managed to find a way to use soda bottles in a way that helps, rather than harms, marine life. 

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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