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October 7, 2005 12:43 PM   Subscribe

So, I am thinking about putting together an aquarium for keeping octopuses. I have never had an aquarium before. Is this just a hare-brained idea with no chance of success?
posted by rtimmel to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
i have nothing to add except that that is a hilariously awesome idea.
posted by Marquis at 12:45 PM on October 7, 2005

Well, from what I've read, you'd be lucky to keep it alive for a week unless everything is *perfect*. Oh, and it'll cost a lot. Here's a page of one guy's adventure. He spent 2500 GBP on his rig before he could keep any alive for any stretch of time.

Since you've never had an aquarium before I would say that you should work your way up to octopuses. Even salt-water tropicals sound easier than them.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 12:55 PM on October 7, 2005

People do this. I've heard that octopi have a bad habit of climbing out and dying of exposure when kept in small aquariums though, so make sure you've got a good lid on that sucker.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:57 PM on October 7, 2005

Another page about aquarium octupuses. Damn, they're a handful. Oh, and even if you do get a working tank set up and you can keep them healthy, don't get too attached, they only live a year or so.

Sorry to pee on your parade.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 12:58 PM on October 7, 2005

An octopus is probably not the best bet for a first aquarium; they're expensive, extremely short-lived (maybe a couple of years, probably closer to one) and demand perfect water conditions. I'd recommend testing the waters with a freshwater tropical tank for a year or two first, and then a marine tank of fish for a while after that. Just setting up an octopus tank will take months before the tank is stable enough to accept its first octopus resident, and if you don't have any experience with marine aquariums it's pretty easy to spend months of doing the wrong things. (And note that you'll be keeping an octopus, not octopuses, unless you have more than one tank.)

This article from The Octopus News Magazine Online covers the basics of octopus-keeping, and nicely covers how much work keeping octopuses alive can be. Dalhousie University's great cephalopod-keeping page has quietly disappeared but there's an archived copy here, and here's a useful ceph-care checklist from TONMO.

I love the idea of a pet octopus and I'll have one someday, but I'm still in the freshwater stage myself, and it's definitely the area of the experienced aquarist. For now I've settled for Wiggly instead.
posted by mendel at 12:58 PM on October 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

Yeah, don't do this unless you want to kill an octopus. I've thought about it too, but they can be a bit challenging. You should start with something simpler if you've never kept an aquarium before.
posted by drobot at 12:59 PM on October 7, 2005

Octopi are very difficult. I've got a fresh-water tank, which isn't too bad, but I understand octopi aren't easy.

Mind, if you've got some extra time and money, it could be a lot of fun. You may want to start with a regular salt-water aquarium, and move to octopi once you've got that under control.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 1:04 PM on October 7, 2005

mendel - Fascinating answer - theres an FPP in there somewhere.
posted by grateful at 1:05 PM on October 7, 2005

I started keeping saltwater tanks years ago with this very intention. I did a lot of research on how it could be done and eventually decided not to try it.

They are *smart* and very squishy. It is almost impossible to keep them inside the aquarium. Every single opening and crack has to be completely sealed. This is very hard in a hobby aquarium, because you must have lots of equipment to clean the water and keep in healthy for the octopus. Considering how much they eat, you'll need a very beefy filtration system which is fully enclosed.

Based on my experiences keeping reef aquaria, I doubt you will be able to do this without a minimum investment of $2-3K. I love saltwater tanks and now have years of experience, but I'd never take on that challenge, much as I would love an octopus myself.

If you do decide to try, don't get the beautiful blue/yellow ring dwarf ones. You knew that, right? Their venom can and will kill you.
posted by Invoke at 1:05 PM on October 7, 2005

One other thing if you go ahead, get the biggest tank you can possibly manage. The bigger the tank the easier it is to keep the water balanced and healthy.
posted by Mitheral at 1:11 PM on October 7, 2005

I spent a high-school field trip at a marine research station and the octopii there _always_ got out of their tanks (usually to try snacking on the inhabitants of the other tanks). They'd get back to water before they croaked, but not always to their own tanks -- it was a lab, there were a lot of tanks around. Sometimes, we'd come into the lab and a grumpy-looking, octopus would be balled-up in a damp corner of the room, unable to find a route back to water and trying to conserve it's own moisture.

I imagine a tank in a home is atop a table and getting out would be much easier than getting back in for an agile and curious mollusc.

Still, they were the smartest non-human critters in the lab. A definite impression of ",someone in there." (which is why I don't eat them any more)
posted by Crosius at 1:13 PM on October 7, 2005

Crosius, smart as a cat or dog, or what? Just curious....
posted by kimota at 2:59 PM on October 7, 2005

I've seen it asserted that the only reason octopi don't have a civilization is because their lifespans are too short, just two or three years. They are INCREDIBLY intelligent. They can learn to open jars by watching a researcher put a treat inside one. (They can also learn how by watching another octopus open one.) My memory is frustratingly vague on specifics, but I believe they can use tools, and in fact are possibly the single smartest non-human creature.

I am quite the carnivore, and will happily eat most forms of meat, but I won't eat octopus. Killing something that smart is pretty much murder, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Malor at 3:15 PM on October 7, 2005

They are smarter than cats and dogs. I watched a fascinating documentary years ago in which an octopus learned how to unscrew the lid on a glass jar to get at the live crab inside. It took a couple hours, but he figured it out. The more we learn about them, the more intelligent smarter we find they are - same with birds.
posted by wsg at 3:15 PM on October 7, 2005

As a marine biologist, I definitely agree with what everyone has said. They are insanely sneaky and intelligent, hard to keep entertained and fed, and will generally be a huge hassle for you until they die.
posted by nekton at 4:13 PM on October 7, 2005

With the general consensus here being that you should not get an octopus, please don't let that put you off of starting an aquarium. Even a $3 goldfish can live for years, grow to be a large and beautiful fish, and give you lots of soothing entertainment for a few minutes of effort each week.
posted by MrZero at 5:49 PM on October 7, 2005

I don't have anything to add except to recommend this Nature program on octopus. They are quite remarkable creatures. There's a great story about an aquarium that decided to put an octopus in the shark tank, only to find the sharks mysteriously dying in the middle of the night when no one was around.
posted by electro at 7:02 PM on October 7, 2005

There was an fpp on this about a year ago, and I second the Nature program. Made me feel guilty eating them at a chinese buffet.
posted by 445supermag at 7:37 PM on October 7, 2005

Recently, at a home show I saw beautiful aquariums mounted on walls with easy access/cleaning features, and got very excited about installing one. Then I remembered I had the terrific Marine Aquarium screen saver, and decided to use that on a flat-panel monitor instead.

If you go to their forums, the developer Jim Sachs is often on-line, and I believe he may be considering octopussies for his next release. So put in your two cents, and save the molluscs!
posted by rob511 at 10:37 PM on October 7, 2005

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