Why I don’t own an octopus


The title of this article is terribly misleading: “The Octopus that can open drink bottles”. I was thinking it would be so cool to have an octopus on your shoulder, and you hold up your beer bottle, and he reaches out an arm and twists the top off for you. And then you read a little further and discover that the little smart-aleck will only do it if you open it first and put some octopus food inside for it. I wouldn’t mind a bit of shrimp or crab bobbing about in my beer, but having to open the bottle first to put it in there defeats the whole purpose of carrying a bottle-opening octopus around with you.

I thought maybe I’d just have to train the octopus to like beer … but then I’d have to share, and just my luck I’d probably get an eight-armed lush. Having a clever beast around who’d probably figure out how to open the refrigerator and then crawls in and drinks all your beer seems like a bad idea.


  1. tony says

    Sounds like my college roommates (similar number of arms – similar propensity for beer not their own) ;-)

  2. MikeM says

    I was watching this really dumb TV program about martial arts, where they examine some Korean custom of eating live octopi. That struck me as being a really bad idea.

    The octopus will fight back in a really big way.

    Quite disturbing…

  3. says

    Koreans do eat live octopus – but in every case I saw when I lived in Korea they were sliced into bite-sized pieces just before the eating. Makes it easier to dip the pieces into the sauce with a pair of chopsticks.

    Of course, the tentacles still hold on inside the cheek!

    Personally, I favored the flattened, dried Squid jerky.

  4. commissarjs says

    Several years ago I was in a pet store specializing in salt water fish. They happened to have an octupus in one of the tanks. It was inside a fish carrier with a rock holding the door closed on it. As I watched the Octopus was pushing with all his strength to open that door.

    I’m not sure if he wanted to escape or just get loose to eat the tastey fish. I asked one of the employees about that. He said that they had to do that or they would never be able to keep it contained. If they didn’t keep it in a fish carrier it would eat the other fish and crawl from tank to tank, one had even managed to crawl down into their live rock tank and hide there. If they didn’t keep a rock on the door it would open the door and escape.

    It always struck me as strange to keep something that smart in an aquarium.

  5. rrt says

    I think you’re missing a business opportunity here, PZ. After all, if mezcal comes with a worm in the bottle…

  6. chaos_engineer says

    Well, that doesn’t have to be an obstacle. You ought to be able to use intermittent positive reinforcement. As long as some of the bottles have crab in them, the octopus should be opening (and discarding) the bottles that just have beer.

    The real problem I saw in the article is that it takes 2 1/2 minutes to open the bottle. I mean, *I* can open bottles faster than that. Hmmmph. Stupid octopodes.

  7. says

    I used to have an (Octopus bimaculoides) as a pet (her name was Cephus, short for Cephalopod) and I was always amazed at the intelligence and problem solving abilities she exhibited. One day I was returning from working all night at the sleep lab followed by a day of class. I had a new bag of goldfish to feed her and placed them in the “goldfish tank” across the table from her 100gal aquarium. She always got excited at that and would hang on the side of her tank and look at the goldfish. At any rate, I got a couple hours of sleep and then ran back to work for another all night shift. Upon stumbling back home the next day, I was stunned to find no goldfish in the goldfish tank! I did not know if I was just seriously sleep deprived or what, but closer inspection revealed goldfish scales floating around in Cephus’s tank……..and a trail of dried salt water on the table top from her tank to the goldfish tank. She had opened the top of her tank, navigated across the table to the goldfish tank, helped herself to every last goldfish in the goldfish tank and then crawled back home, closing the top of her tank! All I could do was stare in dumbfounded amazement.

    She also exhibited curiosity with new objects placed into her tank, exploring them extensively, and I must admit, it is most interesting in that unlike other aquatic non mammalians…..when you looked into an octopus eye, they look back at you. There is something absolutely intelligent behind those eyes.

  8. MikeM says

    Of the octopus videos I’ve seen, this is probably the scariest:

    And yet another good reason to not keep one as a pet.

  9. says

    The bit that would make me hesitate is not the inadequate bottle-opening skills, but the bit at the end of the story that says:

    “The octopus has also learned to rise to the top of the tank, eye up the keeper and squirt water in his face.”

    Water, eh? Octopus spit, more like!

  10. Opisthokont says

    You know, PZ, I have been wondering for a long time, and now seems as good a time as any to ask: given your (totally understandable) fondness for cephalopods, why is it that you study zebrafish? I would understand it if you posted all sorts of neat things about them as well, but no, nary a peep: it is all cephalopods (and again, I totally appreciate it). What gives?

  11. llewelly says

    I think the zebrafish, and PZ’s claims to not keep cephalopods as pets, are all part of a devious scheme to lure his enemies into a false sense of security …
    leaving them deeply vulnerable to a deadly strike from his cyber-cephalopod army!

  12. says

    Shhh. The zebrafish are my secret reserve. Everyone will fear the tentacled menace, and they won’t be prepared for the sudden strike from my legions of small toothless, stomachless fish.

  13. says

    I have always wanted a pet velociraptor after watching Jurassic park but now an little bottle opening octopus is running it close. lol.

  14. Steff Z says

    One of the biologists at the Seattle Aquarium told me that, if there’s something yummy inside, Giant Pacific Octopuses (or one of them, at least) can open “child-proof” pill bottles: the push-down-and-turn kind.

    To keep itinerant octos in lidless exhibits, they put a temporary lid on (overnight) that’s covered with astroturf. It feels icky to octos, apparently. (I totally sympathize.)

    The home-hobbyist solution is to put velcro all the way around the top of the tank and the (matching) bottom of the lid. Don’t leave an un-velcro’d bit where an arm tip could squeeze in, and use as a place to start raising/ un-sticking the lid.