You may have thought if an octopus would make a good pet in your home aquarium. Octopuses are exotic and almost alien to watch, with their ability to change colors and squeeze into almost any space. You may have also heard of their antics as escape artists, some even taking a food run to a nearby tank and then slinking back to their own.
Yes, while a pet octopus is high maintenance, with the right conditions these intelligent invertebrates can be safely kept as pets. You will need to choose a species from a reputable source, a 50-plus gallon tank with a sturdy lid, filtration system, and set up a supply of prey.
Before taking home an octopus, owners should educate themselves on their special needs and commitment they will be undertaking. Read on for more information on you can use to set up a home for these shy tricksters.
Octopus As Pets
Not all octopuses make good pets, as some are poisonous, large, and/or aggressive. There are a few breeds that are appropriate and are commonly sold as pets.
Think of your potential octopus companion like an elusive roommate. Octopuses are nocturnal and like to hide, so its possible you won’t be able to coax them out long enough to form much of a relationship. In the tank itself, they are usually best left solitary and do not do well with most companions. The lighting should be dark, as usually octopuses like to dwell in the dark corners in the sea and do not like the light used in most aquarium environments.
However, with some attention, many owners love interacting with their slinky friends. Octopuses are very intelligent and do well with interaction between their owners. Videos have shown owners teaching octopuses to unscrew glass jars to obtain treats. You can introduce toys and activities into their tank and some smaller species can be handled directly, which provides them with interest and stimulation.
The saddest thing about a pet octopus is that they will typically only live a year or less. So keep that in mind before you make an investment.
Choosing An Octopus
Most octopuses cost between $30 – $100 depending on the species. Most will not exceed 15 inches in width. Most will have special yellow, red, orange, black and brown pigment sacs. They use these sacs to change color when they want to scare away predators, attract a mate, or express themselves.
Some commonly sold species are as follows:
Caribbean Dwarf Octopus
These can be kept in tanks around 30 gallons. They prefer to stay in their cave, so a den or tank environment with crevices will be essential. Items of interest like glass jars, rocks, and coconut shells can be used. They live about 8 to 10 months.
Caribbean Reef Octopus
These can be kept in a tank with 50-75 gallons. They change colors according to their environment, much like a chameleon. They are friendly and easier to handle.
California Two-Spot Octopus
This one is the most popular and are very friendly with two eye-spots on the side of their head. Their mantle can be up to 7 inches, with a arm-span of 23 inches. They use a 50 gallon tank and prefer shrimp and crab. This breed is very friendly and will eat food from a stick and even play with lego blocks.
Atlantic Pygmy Octopus
These are a small breed of octopus, up to 5 inches long, and can be in a smaller tank. They are playful and intelligent, and are great problem solvers. They change color and are very fun to observe and keep in an aquarium. They do like to hide, so need plenty of vegetation and sheltering rocks. They generally prefer clams.
East Pacific Red Octopus
These octopus are small and prefer colder waters. They are often referred to as a ruby octopus referring to their striking red color. These species enjoy mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish.
Choosing A Tank
While some smaller octopuses can handle small tanks, in general, the larger the tank the better so your friend has space to roam, hide, and play. 70 gallons or higher is best and will set you back about 300$.
The biggest concern when choosing a tank is that octopuses are excellent escape artists, with some owners admitting that it is only “a matter of time” before their octopus finds a workaround to whatever system you’ve put in place. However, there are methods you can employ to keep them in. An astroturf barrier is unpleasant for them to glide across, but some of the truly dedicated may still decide to undertake the journey.
Other systems may include adding cylinder blocks, duct tape, or bungee cords to keep that lid down tight! Octopuses can easily climb into very small spaces you would not expect, like the neck of a bottle. When in doubt, just assume they can Houdini their way in and plan accordingly.
If you have other tanks, it is actually recommended to keep them out of sight of your octopus as they could be extra motivated to go after a snack. While some have managed to slip out and back in, unnoticed, there is always the risk that they could harm your other pets, get lost, or dehydrated outside of their tank.
When setting up their new home , you should add items they can play with and hide in, such as flowerpots, glass beads, and shells. Without proper stimulation, octopuses will get bored and can show signs of distress.
A proper wet-dry filtration system will also be needed. Octopuses do not need much light, so a dark one would be best. Check the recommendations for your chosen breed, but most tank environments can be kept rather cold and should not require much in the way of heating.
A sand bed will allow for a happy surface for your octopus to trawl across and plenty of rocks. Taking time to rearrange the rocks or change out the features a bit can be like a nice spring cleaning, giving your octopus a fresh perspective and more items of interest to interact with. Make sure that any rocks are extremely stable and do not underestimate their strength to pull things down.
Octopuses are sensitive to ammonia and pH. Water quality should be as follows:
- RO/DI water with a salt mix
- pH – 8.2
- nitrates- 0 (some are ok, aim for less than 30 ppm)
- ammonia- 0
Feeding Your Octopus
Octopuses, like the rest of us, enjoy tasty treats and, like some of us, prefer to play with their food.
To keep an octopus happy and occupied, live prey is best. If you live close to the ocean, you can even find food along the shore. For the rest of us, bait shops, seafood stores, or exotic pet food supplies are options.
Thawed frozen shrimp is acceptable and many octopus love live crabs. Put them in a jar if you want to see your octopuses problem solving in action.
A little bit each day, with a day off, or they can be fed 3-4 times a week.
Its best to locate sources before you take home your octopus to make sure you have something to feed them.
Playtime With Your Octopus
If you decide to take out your octopus for playtime, be very careful when putting them back in the tank! They are known to ink when entering new waters to ward off predators. To let your little guy know all is well and keep you from a further tank cleaning, first gently let him into a smaller portable tank, which can then be submerged into the larger one.
During playtime, you will find that they have quite an amazing grip! But be gentle so your octopus does not become damaged or distressed. It is better to gently coax and unwind them, or encourage them to latch onto something like a stick that you can them gently unwind your fingers from.
Other activities, you can see if your octopus wants to play tug of war with a feeding stick. Or you can give them a file of shells to work through, or children’s toys like blocks and rings. Glass beads are another favorite, or glass bottles will allow you to still observe them even after they have pulled themselves in.
With proper planning and respect, octopuses can safely be kept in home aquariums. If you want to experience one of the smartest animals in the ocean, it is a big undertaking, but can be very rewarding for the right person. By showing appreciation and respect for your octopus you can enjoy these creatures and bring the mysteries of the deep into your own home aquariums.