Uppity octopus

This is my kind of beast. Otto the octopus of the Sea Star aquarium in Coburg likes to cause trouble.

“We knew that he was bored as the aquarium is closed for winter, and at two feet, seven inches Otto had discovered he was big enough to swing onto the edge of his tank and shoot out a the 2000 Watt spot light above him with a carefully directed jet of water.”

“Once we saw him juggling the hermit crabs in his tank, another time he threw stones against the glass damaging it. And from time to time he completely re-arranges his tank to make it suit his own taste better – much to the distress of his fellow tank inhabitants.”

He was just expressing his cephalopodian nature militantly, I think.


  1. Simon Middlemiss says

    Your RSS feed appears to be broken, the last post on their is about the zombies…

  2. Jeanette says

    Yay! PZ, I was hoping you would feature this story after I saw it posted in the comments, but thought you might be too busy with traveling. You’re awesome! So is Otto!

  3. TrineDK says

    Why does this post make me think of my six-old son???
    Otto could become the new Knut.

    (ooohhhh this is my first pharyngulated post. Very exciting, expect groveling before I rise to my real 5.9 and express my opinion(s) in other posts. Back to regularly scheduled programme)

  4. Ray M says

    OK, I know this is asking for trouble, but exactly what part of Otto would be measured as two feet seven inches?

    Just wondering.

  5. Jared Lessl says

    I seem to recall reading about an octopus that would crawl out of its tank at night, cross the room, and start chowing down on the occupants of another tank. Then he’d go back home, leaving the researchers who came in the next morning to think, WTF? They eventually figured it out when they left a video camera rolling overnight. Anyone got a link for this?

  6. Prazzie says

    Juggling hermit crabs? Next time I’m lonely and bored, instead of going to the garden to eat worms, I’m going to juggle hermit crabs.

  7. Gingerbaker says

    You know, spitting water at an offending lightbulb, and throwing rocks at the glass to break it, is some pretty sophisticated behavior for an animal!

    Isn’t that about equivalent to the abilities of a great ape, which has a relatively enormous brain?

    Would anybody in the know care to comment on how the brain structure of a cephalopod can allow such behavior, and what the implications might be for our understanding of our own brain organization?


  8. Tim H says

    How many hermit crabs can Otto juggle? With 8 tentacles, the potential could be amazing. How much you want to bet he gets booked by FOX for the next reality show hit, Cephalopods Got Talent?

  9. Akheloios says

    A veritable genius among octopus … octopusses … octopi …

    It’s octopodes, it’s third declension Greek. Get it right people!

  10. Somnolent Aphid says

    I had no idea octopi were so intelligent. Now I’m even more glad that I don’t eat them.

  11. Lee Picton says

    The solution for the light bulb problem was to move it out of reach. If the keepers suspected that the brightness pissed off Otto because he was sensitive to it, don’t you think the proper approach would be to reduce the wattage, at the very least? Having seen footage of an octopus going INTO a cage where a treat was in a screw top jar, and figuring out how to unscrew it to get the goodie, I have an increasing admiration for these under appreciated critters.

  12. Akheloios says


    You’d think with all the bible school teaching ancient Greek, you’d have some edumacated people on.

  13. Sven DiMilo says

    It’s octopodes, it’s third declension Greek. Get it right people!

    I’m no linguist, but my understanding is that “octopodes” would be correct if we were counting the eight “feet,” but we’re not–we’re counting eight-“foot”ed animals.

    It’s octopuses.

  14. Donovan says

    Perhaps we should find some more entertaining past-times for Otto. Let’s pitch in and get him a waterproof laptop and a subscription to Skeptic.

  15. Kathy says

    You know, I just can’t help but feel sorry for the hermit crabs. Can you imagine, crawling along, seeing your other hermit crab friends, and then all of a sudden, being flipped up in the air, feeling a tentacle grab you, and flip you back up in the air?

    I imagine that when they hit the ground, the hermit crabs roll their beady eyes, “F-ing Otto again,” they mutter, and carry on with what they were doing in the first place.

  16. Zar says


    Well, I am a linguistics grad student. It’s octopodes. Though octopi is acceptable these days.

    From dictionary.com:

    [Origin: 1750-60; from NL from Gk oktpous (pl. oktpodes) eight-footed; see octo-, -pod]

  17. Nerd of Redhead says

    I wonder if flipping the hermit crabs is way to separate the crab from the protective shell. If Otto succeeds, lunch time.

  18. Sastra says

    Kathy #30 wrote:

    You know, I just can’t help but feel sorry for the hermit crabs.

    Now, now, if you’re going to engage in outlandish anthroporphisms, make it work to your advantage.

    I imagine the little hermit crabs crawling along the tank bored out of their little minds til they see Otto, and their eyes light up. “Otto, Otto!” they squeal and coo, upon which the obliging octopus giant scoops them up and tosses them about in dancing patterns of turbulence, as they gracefully swirl, dip, and dive through the now churning water.

    “WHEEEE!!! YEAY!!! More! More! More!!! Awww… Otto, do it again, huh? Do it again can you can you can you huh?”

    Let’s hear it for The Amazing Otto and the Lucky Hermit Crabs (as Dave Barry would say, not a bad name for a band, either.)

  19. Sven DiMilo says

    The plural-of-octopus argument is rejoined somewhere on the Internet every couple of weeks, it seems. “Octopus” is Latinized Greek, okto (eight) + pous (foot). The plural of the Greek pous is podes. Therefore the Greek oktopodes would mean “eight feet,” right? That’s not what we want to express; we want to say “eight-footed ones.”

    But since I don’t really know what I’m talking about, I’ll defer to the real experts (no offense, Zar):

    There are three forms of the plural of octopus; namely, octopuses, octopi, and octopodes. Currently, octopuses is the most common form in the UK as well as the US; octopodes is rare, and octopi is often objected to.

    The Oxford English Dictionary (2004 update) lists octopuses, octopi and octopodes (in that order); it labels octopodes “rare”, and notes that octopi derives from the mistaken assumption that octōpūs is a second declension Latin noun, which it is not. Rather, it is (Latinized) Greek, from oktṓpous (ὀκτώπους), gender masculine, whose plural is oktṓpodes (ὀκτώποδες). If the word were native to Latin, it would be octōpēs (‘eight-foot’) and the plural octōpedes, analogous to centipedes and mīllipedes, as the plural form of pēs (‘foot’) is pedes….

    Chambers 21st Century Dictionary and the Compact Oxford Dictionary list only octopuses, although the latter notes that octopodes is “still occasionally used”; the British National Corpus has 29 instances of octopuses, 11 of octopi and 4 of octopodes. Merriam-Webster 11th Collegiate Dictionary lists octopuses and octopi, in that order; Webster’s New World College Dictionary lists octopuses, octopi and octopodes (in that order).
    Fowler’s Modern English Usage states that “the only acceptable plural in English is octopuses,” and that octopi is misconceived and octopodes pedantic.

    [quoted from ‘kipedia]

    If you want to argue, you’re arguing with the OED and Fowler’s, in which case be my guest.

  20. says

    It’s painfully obvious that Otto is not only an especially intelligent occupant, but as they say, BORED! Responsible zookeepers know that they need to offer various things in the environment to enrich their charge’s lives and offer them things to do that utilize their natural aptitudes and impulses. Bored and/or stressed animals will do all sorts of acting-out or self-injurious things.

    Otto needs some good toys and puzzles!

  21. Gingerbaker says

    Thanks, Mariana. :)

    That was interesting.


    Still surprising how much they get out of that teensy weensy little brain.

    A primate with much the same abilities has a brain that is at least one order of magnitude larger, I think.

  22. says

    As a student of signed languages, I’ve always been intrigued by the possibilities presented by having eight arms. And as a fan of scifi, the possibility that we would encounter an alien species and be unable to recognize their superiority because they were buglike, or ugly or aquatic or something.

    It only took humans four or five thousand years to recognize languages that weren’t speech. The article Mariana gave us in in #21 speculates that “Caribbean reef squid use their patterning as a visual language- with different signals for nouns, modifiers and verbs.” Well, why not? The problem “was that nobody knew what the signals meant.” Does being so unlike us that we can’t understand them = unintelligent?

  23. Gingerbaker says

    “He might laugh
    But you won’t see him
    As he thunders through the night
    Shoot out the lights”

    Excellent(!) reference to who I consider The Best Musician on the Planet. :)

  24. weemaryanne says

    LOL at #28 and #30. I wonder whether anyone at the aquarium has considered providing Otto with a mate. Such a creature deserves to have his attributes passed on to cephalopod posterity.

  25. Notagod says

    Re #8: The Christian and the potato.

    At least, hopefully, that particular christian wasn’t sexually abusing children. Christian god-ideas really should add a commandment to not abuse children.

    Now contrast the octopus and the christian to determine which is more intelligent.

  26. David W. says

    @ #44

    Males die shortly after mating. I know of an octopus who once had a love affair with a wetmop.

    -David W.

  27. 'Tis Himself says

    If you want to argue, you’re arguing with the OED and Fowler’s, in which case be my guest.

    I prefer octopotomuses.

  28. Graculus says

    If you want to argue, you’re arguing with the OED and Fowler’s, in which case be my guest.

    Just never, ever let me catch you pluralizing “virus” as “viri” or you are so going to eat this post. :)

  29. Kevin says

    yes well I don’t see any comments on the central issue here.

    “Staff believe that the octopus called Otto had been annoyed by the bright light shining into his aquarium and had discovered he could extinguish it by climbing onto the rim of his tank and squirting a jet of water in its direction. ”

    Otto is a slave. Captured or bred to serve as a plaything for human’s amusement, for no pay beyond food, and the occasional toy.

    and instead of moving the light, getting a dimmer light, shutting off the light…no. No, humans keep the cruel light on the poor and now defenseless creature by moving it out of reach of his meager squirts.

    Free Otto!

    Free Otto Now!

    None of us are free unless Otto is free! We are all Octopi now!

  30. DaveG says


    You dare profane the spawn of mighty Cthulhu! Otto is carrying out his ancestor’s divine directive – which includes terrifying you with the spectacle of juggled arthropoda – to assimilate your technology to be used against you when His Dampness breaks the waves to silence your pitiful species.

    Eat not calamari on that dark day, lest your meal reanimate inside you.

  31. says

    Eat not calamari on that dark day, lest your meal reanimate inside you.

    That’s like warning us not to eat chocolate because it’s tasty.

  32. Sili says

    “Viri” is still (a teensy tiny) bit better than “virii” – and it’s inbred cousin “penii”. Presumably there’re “octopii” out there too (not that I dare look).

    I use “octopusses” unless someone’s trying to show off their faux latin with the wroooooooong “-i”. Speaking of which, the plural of “ignoramus” is NOT “ignorami”!

    (The plural of “virus” is “vira”, of course.)

  33. Dex says

    Watercat @#40
    While snorkeling off the coast of Honduras I came across a line of eight squids each set about 1 meter apart from one another. As i tried moving toward them they would move off but still stay in the same formation. Then i noticed something very strange, they had patterns of colors and shades moving across their backs (mantle?). These patterns were split right down the middle, such that the squid on the right was seeing something different from the squid on the left. And each squid was “signing” something different to his neighbors on each side. This is really pretty amazing, its like carrying on a conversation in words to someone on your left, while signing a different conversation to someone on your right!
    Way smarter than a lazy cat.

  34. E.V. says

    I wish I had otto this morning when the Jahova’s Witnesses came to my door.

    What?!! You too? I’m beginning to shamefully wish the JWs would adopt a couple of plays from the Heaven’s Gate playbook and just get on with it.

  35. says

    Dex @ 57: WOW!

    I sure wish our budget allowed us still to fund some scientific research after all the cruise missiles were paid for.

  36. shonny says

    >Way smarter than a lazy cat.

    Ah, but a cat has more uses, at least 100.
    Unless you eat cats as well.

  37. says

    I’ve seen a couple of stories in the news about one giant octopus that gets giant kids’ Lego(tm) blocks to play with.

  38. Luftritter says

    I’m always impresed at how smart they are…
    This beats strongly our mammalian bigotry!

  39. Jeanette Garcia says

    I’m with Kevin, no 51. Why the hell can’t they cease and desist with the lights or give the poor creature an alternative to being under the spotlight twenty-four seven, a cave to crawl into? Also, if he has to stay in captivity, why can’t they give him/her more commodious digs?

  40. dave says

    Otto’s no dummy. Those bright lights would piss me off too. They better tone them down, or risk a much more serious octopodal terrorist rampage, when Otto’s finally had enough.

  41. Graculus says

    “Viri” is still (a teensy tiny) bit better than “virii”

    it’s not even the same root word. That one would be “vir”, not “virus” And “virii” would have its root is “virius”, a word that does not even exist. Equal fails.

    (The plural of “virus” is “vira”, of course.)

    In Latin it’s “vira”. In English it’s “viruses”. :P

    Latin: still dead.

  42. says

    I was wearing my partially-eaten diver costume for Halloween and most people thought my squid hat was either an octopus or a lobster.

    This is at UW-Madison. Considering UW-Madison is one of the top universities in the world, especially in science, I am appalled at the student body’s inability to identify common marine life.

  43. David Harmon says

    Grrrr…. I wouldn’t want to be stuck under a 2000-watt bulb, either! Let alone for 24/7, which is distinctly implied by the tale….

  44. Jared says

    So I want to send him a gift basket, what kind of toys do cephlapods like? (serious question!)

  45. Peter Ashby says


    That would have been me. I was told the story on a visit to the University of Otago’s Marine lab at Portobello on the Otago Harbour. Would have been the late ’80s taking the kids there. I doubt it was when I was taken there in the ’70s as a kid.

    It was there that my abiding love of all things cephalopod was hateched. I can remember aged about 8 standing entranced looking at the octopus (probably not the same one) and watching it change colour and texture in front of my eyes.