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Keeping an Octopus

By Chris Johnston and Mark Lanett. Posted to the ReefKeepers emailing list, Thursday 20th and Friday 21th May 1999.


I had...HAD...two blue ring octopus. One for 2 months and one for about 14 months. In the end he keeled over overnight. No matter how good you take care of them, they are extremely short-lived creatures.

Some of the things I have found out from my personal experience:

  • They HATE stress. #1 killer
  • You must feed it varied LIVE foods. Otherwise, it's nutrition depletes rapidly. I usually fed it crabs or crawfish.
  • You MUST keep the water quality pristine! I had a ultralife 16 watt UV light on the tank (which was a 45 gallon). Plus, I was VERY meticulous in cleaning up after him when he ate the above foods. It can get extremely messy. Keep things like you would for clams except for lighting.
  • Use only RO/DI water. I used Instant Ocean because of the trace elements. At times I added calcium, but it wasn't a rule.
  • Do NOT scrimp on places for him to hide. If he can't hide, he WILL die. "I gau-runn-tee." He'll come out just fine for feeding time.
  • Keep your hands out of the water unless they are sterile. This was important for me as the blue ring is poisonous.
  • The tank should be like Fort Knox. The top should be WEIGHTED DOWN or LOCKED and there should not be a hole in the tank the same size as it's beak. It's beak is the only thing that prevented it from going through the small mesh I installed on the overflow.
  • Low wattage lighting. He did well under a 2 bulb (daylight floresent and a atinic) lighting arrangement. He's not a plant and can "burn" :-)
  • Quiet, low traffic areas are best. If they face a "living room" or "dining room" where there is generally a lot of movement during the day, they will die within a month.
  • If they ink in the water, especially in a small tank, you must do a 30% water change immediately or the poor little guy will die from stress and suffocation. Having above average filtration/tank changeover is a GOOD THING.
  • You must have significant water movement through the tank, but not blasting around. (5 powerheads is too much...I had two Maxijet 750's aimed at the walls)
  • For living spaces, I created a lot of caves and caverns with Fiji LR. I had no SPS or LPS for fear of polluting the water with unknowns.
  • Filtration was mechanical (Bio-Balls) with a mesh prefilter (looked like a brillo pad) that was cleaned daily, and totally replaced every two weeks. The Bio-Balls were each encased in their own "Bio-Bag", a plastic mesh that was used for packaging grapes and strawberries. I had 4 bags sitting vertically in the sump (like loaves of bread). I replaced one quarter of the Bio-Balls (one bag) every 4 months with an equal number of "sterile" ones. (Washed with water and SOME bleach, not much and then rinsed extremely well and left to dry)
  • Any other creature in the tank (including hermits and snails) is on the menu.
  • If you happen to get a female, it will die several days after releasing it's eggs. (This is what happened to my first blue ring)

As you can probably see, caring for an octopus is a very close to a full time job and is not guaranteed. If you are willing to devote the time and effort, go for it. But you must realize that it is a very time consuming activity (if reef keeping isn't!).

You also mentioned that you wanted it in a refuguim. I really think you're asking for trouble there. IMO, the octopus needs it's own filtration and own tank. Complete separation from the rest, otherwise it's going to die.


Octopuses don't ship well. Getting one from the Indo-Pacific is very unlikely. Getting one from Hawaii to SF is unlikely. Basically, any octopus you get is going to come from near-US waters, that is, cooler waters.

A Caribbean octopus can handle reef temperatures, but won't like it. A Pacific, even south Pacific like Baja, can't take it at all. An octopus really needs a dedicated tank (for lots of reasons). I keep my pygmies at room temperature, not reef temperature, but even this I'll only do in the future for Caribbeans. (Some people do manage to get Info-Pacific species, but the mortality rate to get a living one to you is extreme. Octopus researchers report horrid rates unless they collect them themselves and personally transport them.)

This lesson was driven home to me last week with a new octopus. Don't do it.

There's plenty of other issues, of course. Small (pygmy) octopuses are boring. Medium-sized ones eat *lots* of food, either live and hand-wiggled. Going on vacation is much much more difficult since you can't use a feeder. They're time-consuming, quite the opposite of a refugium (which, by the way, they could easily deplete).

If you want to set up a dedicated tank, start research at the Cephalopod Page

Created by liquid
Last modified 2006-11-24 18:41