How to Keep an Octopus In a Home Saltwater Aquarium

Written by lindsay pick
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How to Keep an Octopus In a Home Saltwater Aquarium
An octopus doesn't require as much light as a normal reef tank provides. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

An octopus can make a fascinating and intelligent addition to an aquarist's home collection. Agile cephalopods that are known for their puzzle-solving skills and predatory habits, octopi do require specially maintained tanks and attentive caretakers. Those who invest in octopus care are rewarded with an interactive marine pet that, while short-lived, can provide hours of entertainment and visual appreciation.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • 30-gallon tank (or larger)
  • Sealed tank top
  • Mechanical filtration equipment
  • Oxygen source
  • Water quality assessment tools
  • Rocks and substrate
  • Crustaceans, shrimp and other octopus-friendly food

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  1. 1

    Set up a "specimen tank" or a tank for housing only the octopus. They are highly predatory animals that will often devour all tank mates, including other octopi. Tank set-up should include a fine-grain sand and various rocks for the octopus to hide among. Anchor any smaller rocks to prevent the octopus from rearranging the tank. Include short lengths of PVC pipe, small rocks and shells for enrichment and for the octopus to build a door to its den.

  2. 2

    Ensure the tank has a tightly sealed lid. Some aquarists leave a lid open; if you do, line the top with AstroTurf or keep a few inches of unoccupied space between the top of the tank and the waterline. Octopi can squeeze through extremely small surfaces and are naturally very curious. They are known to climb out of their tanks, drying out and dying. Some octopi have been noted to climb into nearby tanks and consume their inhabitants. Sealed tank tops should have openings only for filtration and air supply.

  3. 3

    Install adequate filtration and biological filtration for an octopus. Messy eaters that often shed skin, octopuses need mechanical filtration to remove detritus from the water as well as biological filtration to protect their sensitive skin and systems from unduly high ammonia and nitrate levels.

  4. 4

    Ensure very adequate oxygen supply. It has been demonstrated that octopi need a very high level of oxygen, similar to that of a coral reef tank, and that decreased oxygen levels can dramatically impact their health. Unlike reef tanks, octopus tanks do not require highlight levels; octopi can generally live comfortably with a general fluorescent bulb.

  5. 5

    Feed octopi crustaceans and shrimp. You can order special octopus diets from premium aquarium supply stores. Octopi will also eat fish and chopped, prepared diets. Be very careful before feeding live feeder fish, as they may have been treated with copper; octopi are extremely sensitive to copper toxicity. Consider sealing food in jars and pet toys to enrich the octopus and provide entertainment while you watch them solve these interactive puzzles. Octopi can be trained with food rewards and will eventually allow gentle underwater handling and play.

Tips and warnings

  • Octopi are not long-lived creatures. Living from six months to two years, these invertebrates die soon after mating and egg-laying. Even singly housed females will often lay eggs and pass after "caring" for them.
  • Do not keep a blue-ringed octopus as a pet. They are very toxic to humans.
  • Be careful not to startle an octopus, as it may "ink" a tank, releasing a small amount of dark viscous fluid to distract predators and threats.

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