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Georges Cuvier's original illustration of an octopus hectocotylus, which he named "Hectocotyle octopodis"

A hectocotylus (plural: hectocotyli) is one of the arms of male cephalopods that is specialized to store and transfer spermatophores to the female. Structurally, hectocotyli are muscular hydrostats. Depending on the species, the male may use it merely as a conduit to the female, or he may wrench it off and present it to the female.

The name hectocotylus was devised by Georges Cuvier, who first found one embedded in the mantle of a female argonaut. Supposing it to be a parasitic worm, Cuvier gave it a generic name.[when?] The hectocotyl arm was first described in the biological works of Aristotle; although he knew of its use in mating, he was doubtful that a tentacle could deliver sperm.[1][2][3]


Generalized anatomy of squid and octopod hectocotyli:



Hectocotyli are shaped in many distinctive ways, and vary considerably between species. The shape of the tip of the hectocotylus has been much used in octopus systematics.

  • Many coleoids lack hectocotyli altogether.[4]
  • Among Decapodiformes (ten-limbed cephalopods), generally either one or both of arms IV are hectocotylized.
  • In incirrate octopuses it is one of arm pair III.[4] Rare examples of double and bilateral hectocotylization have also been recorded in incirrate octopuses.[5][6]
  • In male Seven-arm Octopuses (Haliphron atlanticus), the hectocotylus develops in an inconspicuous sac in front of the right eye that gives the male the appearance of having only seven arms.
  • In argonauts, the male transfers the spermatophores to the female by putting its hectocotylus into a cavity in the mantle of the female, called the pallial cavity. This is the only contact the male and female have with each other during copulation, and it can be at a distance. During copulation, the hectocotylus breaks off from the male. The funnel–mantle locking apparatus on the hectocotylus keeps it lodged in the pallial cavity of the female.
Shape of hectocotylus Species Family
350px Abraliopsis morisi Enoploteuthidae
350px Argonauta bottgeri Argonautidae
350px Bathypolypus arcticus Octopodidae
350px Graneledone verrucosa Octopodidae
350px Haliphron atlanticus Alloposidae
350px Ocythoe tuberculata Ocythoidae
350px Scaeurgus patagiatus Octopodidae
350px Tremoctopus violaceus Tremoctopodidae
350px Uroteuthis duvauceli Loliginidae


  1. Armand Marie Leroi. The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science. https://books.google.de/books?id=-DVBAwAAQBAJ&lpg=PT79&ots=G_61_CioQn&dq=aristotle%20hectocotylus&pg=PT80#v=onepage&q=aristotle%20hectocotylus&f=false
  2. Thompson, Darcy Wentworth. 1913. On Aristotle as a biologist, with a prooemion on Herbert Spencer. Being the Herbert Spencer Lecture before the University of Oxford, on February 14, 1913. Oxford University Press. Page 19.
  3. Nixon M. & J.Z. Young J.Z. 2003. The brains and lives of Cephalopods. Oxford University Press.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Young, R.E., M. Vecchione & K.M. Mangold (1999). Cephalopoda Glossary. Tree of Life Web Project.
  5. Robson, G.C. 1929. On a case of bilateral hectocotylization in Octopus rugosus. Journal of Zoology 99(1): 95–97. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.1929.tb07690.x
  6. Palacio, F.J. 1973. On the double hectocotylization of octopods. PDF The Nautilus 87: 99–102.