The octopus as a pet

Thinking about getting a pet? You should read Animal Reviews first, to see if it will fulfill your needs. For example, the review of the octopus suggests that I need one, right now.

Next, Octopi are what are known as Cephalopods, a science word meaning that they are constructed entirely out of squish, with no bones whatsoever. Sensational! Yet, unlike their clearly unmotivated cousins the clam and the spinach, they have managed to get themselves hold of tentacles. And not just two or three ‘bitty’ tentacles either, but eight great big ones sticking out of their drippy bodies, whipping out to grab fish and diver’s air tanks. The only deterrent at first sight is the octopus’ overwhelmingly cold demeanour, which is at once both silent and calculating, and radiates an aura of eerie menace.

Scientific accuracy isn’t exactly their strong point.


  1. Buffalo Gal says

    Eerie menace!? Not at all. I was lucky enough to take a fish biology course after hours at the local aquarium. Once the crowds were gone, the shy octopus would come out to observe the students. She projected thoughtfulness and calm.

  2. says

    I like “it’s a science word”. I may start using that on colleagues who ask me stupid questions about technology.

  3. rrt says

    Hey now, I HAD an octopus, and he was almost entirely non-menace-radiating. Well, mostly. Okay, he was menacing most days of the week, but the brittle stars were rude neighbors.

    Of course, then I murdered him in an act of gross ineptitude and stupidity, so really, who’s the more menacing of us?

  4. Heleen says

    The plural of Octopus is definitely not Octopi, but Octopodes – octo being eight and pus the transliteration of the greek pous, with plural podes if my long ago classical schooling does not give out on me. Cephalopods is Englishing of Cephalopodes, from kephalon = head and the plural podes of foot=pous.

  5. MG says

    I will throw myself on the fire here. Is there any truth to this whole octopus leaving his aquatic environment, going over to the fish cage, killing a fish and returning thing? If this is possible, I have like 8 people on my cephalpodmas list they would be perfect for. Also i need recomendations for the varieties with real killer instinct or at the very least a propensity to “bed-ink”. Man that would be awesome…..

  6. says

    MG, yes, octopi have been documented escaping from their tanks to feed on crabs or fish housed securely in anothter, nearby tank. That, and in aquarium-keeping, they’re known as notorious escape artists in general, and hobbyists who have kept them always admonish that an octopus’ aquarium lid be secured. Preferably with chains, and a welding torch.

    That, and the scientific accuracy of that article is almost on par with “The last mammoths were killed by falling pieces of the collapsing Ice Dome as the Great Flood Started.”

  7. MG says

    Thanks for the feedback Stanton. I actually did a little online research into owning an octo or cuttlefish. Way, way, way out of my league. Although this “blue-ring” fellow sounds like a pretty good one for anyone looking for a mother-in-law gift.

  8. says

    Heleen said:

    The plural of Octopus is definitely not Octopi, but Octopodes […]

    What about “Octopuses”? That’s the American way to make a plural.

  9. Heleen says

    Craig Ewert mentions Octopuses as the plural of Octopus. Of course, as the American way to do it, this is entirely correct. Itis “Octopi” that is irritating, suggesting a non-existent grasp of Latin.

  10. says

    Exactly how amphibious are our eight-legged overlords? I ask because there’s a book by D’Arcy W. Thompson (yes, that D’Arcy W. Thompson) called ‘Glossary of Greek Fishes’, in which he lists all the references to marine creatures in ancient Greek and Roman literature. The octopus (which they actually called ‘Polypus’) was “said to be so far amphibious as to leave the water, climb trees, and steal the grapes and olives. The eggs look remarkably like ripe olives, hence the story.” He cites a bunch of sources (Aristotle, Theophrastus, Oppian and Athenaeus), but I’d always believed Thompson in assuming that the octopus couldn’t do that.

    Could one? If so, could I have a citation?

    Incidentally, as a collection of folklore, the book’s a laugh, but it’s also out of print and hard to get hold of. If anybody (and I’m e-looking straight at you here, PZ) would like me to summarise the ‘Polypus’ entry in more detail, I’ll post it online.

    Athenaeus also reckons that octopus is an aphrodisiac, although how applied, I don’t know.

  11. Paul (A.) says

    Heleen and Craig, permit me to quote England‘s leading grammarian, H.W. Fowler: “octopus. Pl. -uses; -pi is wrong and -podes pedantic.”

  12. says

    Keeping the noble octopus confined as a housepet is just plain cruel. They must remain free to roam amongst the trees of the Pacific Northwest!

  13. Stogoe says

    Octopi are awesome.

    And yes, -pi is the correct plural through popular usage. Latin and Greek are dead; get over it.

  14. Troublesome Frog says

    Aquarium Fish Magazine has had a few articles over the years covering the care and feeding of an octopus. Definitely seems like a fascinating project, but it’s also clearly way out of the league of the average aquarist. I’m a freshwater geek (mainly plants and discus), but something as interesting and complex as an octopus has nearly enough draw to switch me to the dark side. I would just have to be darned sure that I had the resources and the skills to be good to the little guy. Way too many people jump in well over their heads at the cost of the animal’s well being.

  15. says

    Stogoe, if the Greek Language is dead, then how come it’s still being used by the Greeks in Greece and Turkey?
    And New York delis?

  16. Ichthyic says

    Stogoe, if the Greek Language is dead, then how come it’s still being used by the Greeks in Greece and Turkey?

    ..and how come there are still pygmies and dwarves!

  17. Ichthyic says

    BTW, having maintained many marine aquaria in setting from the home to the Cal Academy of Science, from tiny to gigantic, from temperate to tropical, and having maintained several octopus (yeah, the plural is like “sheep”, IMO), I can truthfully say the little buggers are relatively easy to care for provided:

    -you keep the water immaculately clean (or you have a nice constant exchange of fresh water straight from the ocean)

    -you don’t put a lot of other critters in with them (they are definetly into eating anything they can get their arms around and subdue), and larger critters tend to want to eat them

    -you don’t overfeed them (they can be real pigs, but they make a big mess too).

    -you don’t get too attached (they typically don’t live too long, even the really big ones only live less than 5 years, and most only a year or so).

    -they will climb out of the tank to explore (especially ones that commonly hunt in intertidal areas), so unless you have really secured the tank, don’t be surprised to see your octopus as a decoration on the floor when you wake up in the morning.

    all that said, they are fascinating critters, and do seem to have the ability to recognize individuals.

    definetly worth experimenting with, especially if you live in an area where you can let the buggers go where you caught them.

  18. says

    In “The Future is Wild” a pseudo-wildlife documentary set 5 million, 100 million and 200 million years in the future, you can see the descendants of the octopus swinging from tree to tree, as they have evolved into the niche presently occupied by the gibbons, and are well on the way to sapience.

  19. Carlie says

    Wow, did I break the thread? I didn’t know that accidentally leaving an italics tag open could go that far….

  20. Kyra says

    Pirates of the Caribbean 2 is NOT a B-movie, damn it!

    It’s (last I checked, anyway) looking to knock Titanic of the pedestel of highest grossing film ever.

    So get the facts straight, Animal Review: they live in blockbusters.

    That having been said, I want one. Or two. Or three. Or a dozen.

  21. Thomas Palm says

    I’ve heard that astroturf along the top of the aquarium is a good way of keeping an octupus in.