Ceph Care, Past and Future

by Nancy King, January 2006


Three Years of Ceph Care
Looking back on the last three years of the Ceph Care Forum, I can see we've learned a lot and made progress in keeping our cephs well. I've had in mind for some time to write about how Ceph Care has evolved over these years and will make this year-end review an annual event. We've seen a number of changes: the members we're attracting, the species being kept and the level of sophistication of the member tanks. We're also getting many more posts daily with widely varying topics. Colin and I still moderate the forums but are assisted by three special contributors.

One of the most significant accomplishments as a group is to record actual ceph behavior and put to rest some rumors that were persistent a few years ago. Two that come to mind are that O. bimaculoides (bimacs) never bite and that bimacs never try to escape. Three years ago these views were widely held. I even remember saying to my husband as my bimac was nibbling on him, "She can't be biting you – bimacs don't bite!" She did bite and many others have after her, and now we tell people that their bimacs can bite them. The idea that bimacs don't try to escape may grow out of the fact that they don't try to escape nearly as much as do some other species, like O. vulgaris. We had to lose several bimacs to 'escapology' before we could definitively say that bimac tanks must be made escape-proof.

Consolidating our Knowledge
Trying to communicate the best ceph keeping methods to our members was difficult using individual posts. Over time, we've accumulated a body of articles under Ceph Care to transfer some of the necessary knowledge about keeping an octopus or a cuttlefish. Then we could concentrate on answering the other questions from our would-be ceph keepers

In addition to the articles, a couple of years ago I began keeping the List of Our Octopuses, found at the top of the Journals and Photos Forum. This is a list, not a database, but does contain the octopus's name, species, owner, acquisition date and date of death. Sometimes the source is listed. This gives us a view of what species are being kept and a valuable insight into lifespan.

Changes in our Audience
We've seen a change and expansion in our audience – a few years ago the majority of those interested in keeping cephs were male and older, often coming from a reef keeping background. Changes we've seen in the last three years are more women involved and the age of those interested in keeping a first tank seemed to drop. Many have no reefkeeping experience and come directly to TONMO.com because of an interest in cephalopods.

Changes in Species Kept
When Ceph Care began three years ago, there were no captive bred (CB) octopuses available. In fact, the first generation of O. bimaculoides (bimacs) I recorded contained a mixture of wild caught (WC) and the first of Octopets CB bimacs. Many were distinguished by their long lifespan – three of the eight I tracked lived more than ten months in captivity.

The last year (2005) saw an increase in bimacs kept as well as an increase in other species. A number of young O. briareus became available and others kept dwarfs such as O. mercatoris. Since TONMO.com members around the globe keep octopuses, we have a range of species outside the U.S.

We're encountering people interested in species that we don't recommend keeping: blue ringed octos, which seem to attract younger would-be octo keepers, have a deadly bite. More recently we've had interest in mimics and wunderpuses. Fortunately we have expert help in explaining why not to keep these species – blue rings because you could die if bitten, mimics and wunderpuses because their collection and sale should never be encouraged. We don't know much about them and they could become endangered. We've also had some discussion on the Ceph Care forums about whether it's acceptable to 'rescue' a striped octopus from an LFS.

Three years ago only a few people kept cuttlefish, at least in the US. Then, when Octopets began selling Sepia officinalis, we began to have more cuttlefish keepers. The year 2005 saw S .bandensis being kept and bred, so more TONMO.com members have access to these small cuttles. A new forum on Cuttlefish Care Q&A was added to Ceph Care and continues to be lively.

We now have more people keeping their second and third octopus and there is more talk of trying to breed octopuses, or at least raise the babies when wild-caught octos have fertile eggs. We already have several people breeding S. bandensis on the cuttle side.

Availability of Ceph Food
Three years ago there were few places to buy quality ceph food in the US – it was hit or miss, and ceph keepers who lived inland were disadvantaged. I worked with people who owned the Aquaculture Store in Florida to ship fiddler crabs by priority mail – I needed the crabs for my bimac but realized that other octo keepers needed them, too. This effort was successful and many of our TONMO.com cephs have enjoyed these fiddlers. Tony, our webmaster, set up ShrimpStuff.com [now defunct] to provide live shrimp as ceph food. It's now possible for cephs kept inland to benefit from quality live food. Another recent development is the ability to buy marine food of all sizes online, from plankton to mysids to copepods to amphipods, so raising baby octopuses from large or small eggs is more possible.

Larger Tank Sizes
Three years ago we were recommending a 30-gallon tank to be the minimum for a bimac. When we looked at the sizes of our fully-grown bimacs, we changed that recommendation to 50 gallons minimum. We also had to put up quite an argument to convince people that S. officinalis need a large tank of around 200 gallons. You could find reputable sources online suggesting that this species could fit into a 40-gallon tank.

Recently there has been a voluntary trend towards larger tanks – people planning 75 or 125 gallon tanks for their bimacs or briareus. These octopuses will have plenty of room to swim and lead a more natural life – we can only regard this as a positive move.

What Lies Ahead
My predictions for 2006 are that Ceph Care will continue to attract new people and our regulars will not only continue to keep cephs, but will try breeding certain octos and cuttles and will try keeping new species.

I'd like to see the average lifespan of the tank-bred bimac increase – for some reason, few of our current bimacs are living as long as the first generation of bimacs (Ollie, Ink and Roxy were with us for around 10 months after they arrived.) This is partially due to premature deaths from preventable causes (about half), but we also have some bimacs die early and we can't establish the cause from information presented on the forums.

Finally we have an opportunity to look at certain issues together – not in a scientific way, because we don't have controls, but as a group reporting on what we observe. We tried this with the octopuses watching TV and had more than 5 reports from people who had observed this behavior and we even observed that octos preferred watching cartoons and sports.

The more information that TONMO.com members contribute the better the resources will be for the future. I also hope that all our ceph keepers will continue to post updates on their cephs and let me know when they pass away. The records I'm keeping will help us all.

As a special project for 2006, I'd like to try to establish the cost of feeding an octopus the right food over his lifetime. This is probably more than many people estimate when considering a tank.
Original publish date
Jan 15, 2006
About the Author
Nancy has an interest in all things cephy but especially octopus behavior. She maintains two saltwater aquariums and has kept O. bimaculoides and O. briareus as well as many other invertebrates. She joined the TONMO.com staff in March 2002 with a background in management, editing and technical writing in technology companies. She enjoys helping people with ceph keeping, including writing articles. Nancy also has a strong background in art and currently works in precious metals and watercolor with a goal of producing high quality art with marine themes. She holds an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin and presently lives in Dallas, Texas - only five hours from the Gulf!


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