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/ Source: Live Science

A real-life "Octomom" off the coast of California has been declared a champion of parenting — and patience — in the animal world.

After the deep-sea creature laid a clutch of eggs, she protected her babies until they hatched 4.5 years later, without even leaving to eat. Not only is that four times longer than most shallow-water octopuses even live, but it's also the longest brooding period known of any animal on the planet, elephants and emperor penguins included, according to a new study.

The findings, detailed Wenesday (July 30) in the journal PLOS ONE, suggest octopuses far below the surface might live much longer than their shore-hugging cousins. The case of extreme parenting also illustrates how some animals have evolved grueling strategies to ensure their offspring survive in such a hostile environment as the deep ocean. [See Photos of 'Octomom' Shielding Her Eggs]

For 53 months, scientists watched as a female octopus in the deep sea vigilantly shielded a single clutch of eggs. An underwater camera took this image in May 2007, soon after "Octomom" laid her eggs.Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute

"This is really surprising, and I've been studying octopuses for over 20 years," said Janet Voight, Associate Curator of Zoology at the Field Museum in Chicago, who was not involved in the study but reviewed it. "The photos to me — skeptic that I am as a scientist — support that it is the same individual."

Octomom's astonishing brooding period totaled 53 months — a record in the animal kingdom.

— Megan Gannon, Live Science

This is a condensed version of a report from Live Science. Read the full report. Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+.