[Octopus]: Asian Food Market Octos - Take 2

Dec 6, 2009
Herndon, VA
Well, just over 4 years ago I encountered an Asian Food Market that sold live octopuses for food. I took a few home over time and after multiple tries with some of them lasting for months but never eating and slowly dying off, the store stopped carrying them and then eventually closed. Well, what do you know, another store about a mile away started carrying them and I stumbled across it the other day as I waited for my kids to finish up a rehearsal. I ended up buying a couple of sorry looking specimens that I figured were too far gone to save, but I figured I'd give it a try anyway. These are not ones that they will stop importing because no one buys them, so when I purchase them and bring them home I don't feel bad for propagating the problem - they sell pretty quickly there to be eaten alive and the ones that don't get sold die off pretty quickly due to being housed in systems with live foods like lobster, crab, various fish, abalone, and geoduck clams (never saw one of these live before - they are humongous!). Anyway, back on topic, the other day I bought a couple of them with little hope that they would survive and converted an existing tank with some random inverts in it (urchins, clams, serpent stars, and cucumbers) over to a cold water system. This particular tank has housed multiple other animals over the years including the long surviving but never eating last experiment with one of these guys.

The last time I purchased them, I determined that they were most likely the Japanese Long Arm Octopus, but didn't get much beyond that. There are a few sites out there that classify the food octopuses served in Japanese Restaurants, but it's difficult at best to determine if it is one of the ones listed on this site (Octopus Species). My best guess is still that these guys come from the Sea of Japan and that they are a pretty temperate species, although they are kept in 50 degree water at the store. My research of where I think these come from leads me to believe that they go from about 50-65 degrees in water temperature, but again, this is all conjecture for lack of a good identification.

Anyway, the first two I bought died within a couple of days. They exhibited very poor health from the get go:
  • eyes hidden in their bodies
  • low response to stimuli
  • little to no desire to right themselves
  • one exhibited almost no coloration at all and had a white spot that seemed to be dead tissue on the abdominal area
  • severing their own arms
  • tissue sloughing/excessive mucous production
After I lost these two, I waited until they were coming in again and went back in. Again, the specimens didn't look too good, but these were still in the original shipping bag being floated in another tank. I imagine that the pH and the ammonia levels in the bag were pretty high, but I got two of them again and these were somewhat smaller than the others I had purchased in the past and also the last two.

Anyway, I got them home and acclimated them slowly over the course of a couple of hours to the chilled tank which is at 51-52 degrees (the store tank is at about 51 degrees per their seafood department). They again didn't look great and exhibited:
  • somewhat sunken eyes
  • one had excessive mucous production/possible tissue sloughing
  • low response to stimuli
That said, these looked to be in better condition as they were still responding a bit and had decent coloration from what I remembered with one of them also exhibiting some tissue texture as well. Anyway, after acclimation, I left them alone and one of them seemed to be a goner right off the bat. It continued to shed the outermost layer of skin (or at least appeared to do so) and tumbled a bit in the current.

I had very little hope that these would survive more than a night (I bought them on Thursday night) and so when I checked on them this morning I was surprised to see that they were still breathing pretty regularly but had not really moved. By the time the afternoon rolled around, they had both moved a little bit with one of them going to a corner of the tank with its eyes completely out. The other that had been sloughing tissue was in the same front corner but had pulled itself together a little bit.

I decided that I would attempt to feed them so first offered a piece of smelt which they both ignored and then with a tiny piece of shrimp. For the one that had moved off into the corner, I put it on the edge of its body and it very slowly moved the shrimp to its mouth and proceeded to bunch itself around the piece of shrimp, albeit in what seemed like slow motion. It stayed in this eating position with its mantle bunched up and its arms pulled together to hold the piece of shrimp for about 5 minutes. It didn't eat the whole thing, but it did eat a little bit of it. When I saw this, I decided to try and feed the other one that had not reacted at all to offerings of food. I put a piece of shrimp on the glass where its arms were spread apart a little bit and tucked it slightly under the mantle so it stayed put. After a few minutes it slowly began to move its arms and then it took about 30 seconds to move the piece of shrimp to its mouth where it began to eat the piece of shrimp.

I am probably being overly optimistic right now about their chances for survival (plus, I have 2 in the same 90 gallon system since they typically don't survive and have never shown any aggression) but this is the first time I have gotten any of them to eat since I had the one that was eating in a warmer tank and then I ended up killing it by accident by moving it inside into a warmer system. Neither one ate the full piece of shrimp (very tiny pieces, only about the last section of the tail) but nevertheless, they did eat which is pretty surprising.

This is a picture of the one that looks to be healthier overall that ate when I put the shrimp on its arm.

Sorry about the lousy quality, forgot to wipe the condensation off the tank and didn't want to expose it to too much light.
Pictures of the second one that looked to be in worse condition. The piece of shrimp is being eaten right now.

Front side - can kind of see the tissue sloughing/mucous production I was talking about as well as the sunken/hidden eyes.

Now, right after the one that looks worse ate, it decided to move to the back of the tank and stretch itself a bit. It didn't eat all of the shrimp, but after being shipped for a couple of days in a block of ice with a bunch of other octopuses, I'm surprised it ate at all... Here's a video of it in the back corner. I'm not sure if the curled arms are a sign of corkscrewing arms, but with any octopus I've had in the past, once it hit corkscrew arms it wouldn't eat again, so not sure if this is a sign of that or not. You can see the excess mucous or tissue sloughing pretty clearly on the abdomen just above the eyes - it's the film that reaches almost to the end of the abdomen.

I am so glad you are trying this again (and glad to have you back active!). I have never found any alive locally (plenty frozen). We have tried an internet search but never located octopus as a live food offering. We have heard rumors that they are offered in a few Korean restaurants but that you have to ask for them. It may be that our state prohibits it but live lobster is available in many places (as well as clams, oysters and muscles).

Norman's Cephalopods A World Guide has a very short chapter entitled Slime Specialists (pg 292 if you have the book). There is not a lot of info but I have included a scan of the text on octopuses (the only other page is about squid). You might look more into Octopus kaurna (the top animal) as they could easily be the same animal, the close up at the bottom is Cistopus indicus and would not be the guys you have (it is showing the mucus glans yours do not have but is not the same as the upper species). None of the Caribbeans (warm water) I have kept have ever felt slimy while alive but the one cold water (O. bimaculoides) I have kept did have a slime coat and I have read that GPO's also have a slimy exterior.

Having a warm water animal go through a bizzard during shipping (and not surviving) and remembering your older photos, I would say these look better off. I would not say the curled arm tips were corkscrews so just maybe these will do better. One food I have found that has been readily accepted is blue crab claw. We scrounge the local Asian market live bins for fresh claws and then freeze them.
The slim MAY not be as negative as it first appears.

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Would love to have those kind of markets around me or at least in this country...

Some of the potential aquarium creatures on sale are just to good to pass up, I know many a rare species of Stomatopod could be found at asian seafood markets.
Hey Denise, that species bears a striking resemblance to these, but unless they are getting these from Australia which I would think would kill them almost instantly given the water temperature differences they would be experiencing, I would tend to agree win you that these are not that species.

That is pretty cool how it buries in the sand, though! I will have to watch for similar behavior should these survive the next few days. I have a bucket full of live crayfish as well and have been waiting to see some sort of feeding response before trying a claw or perhaps a whole one. Will wait a few days as these are food for people.

On a side note, this store tends to keep their animals in better condition than others I have seen. Not that they aren't overcrowded, but insofar as they are live food for human consumption, they seem to be in cleaner systems...

By the way, the octopuses are $10 and the crayfish are $6 per pound. They also have abalone $6 each and said they had some cucumbers but I didn't see any if those. They also advertise baby octopus live, but I have not seen those yet. Those are most likely bimacs from what I have seen of the "fresh" ones as they exhibit the two circles beneath the eyes, but it is difficult to tell when they are dead in a tray... :frown:
Just went down to check on them again. One is spread out across the back corner and extending and moving its arms around, the other is up towards the front and just sitting around. It's eyes appear to be extended and out and it looks to be in a "healthy" position, meaning it's arms are gathered around itself in normal fashion and it's abdomen is upright and pulsing as it breathes. I offered some more tiny pieces of shrimp and the front one took it when offered while the one in back reached out to examine the feeding tongs but did not take the food from what I can tell. I did not turn on any lights and had only red light on the other side of the rock structure to see by so can't tell exactly what they look like today, but again, the fact that one ate is a good sign. They sell red claw crabs at Petsmart, will probably buy a couple today to see if they are interested in eating them as they are smaller than the crayfish (significantly) and are about the size of a fiddler crab.

Of note is that my chiller was not working properly from what I could tell so I had to put a flow through chiller on the system. It is currently sitting on top of the tank which also means the tank is open, but there's a eurobrace and the water is about 2-3" below the bracing so I don't believe at this time there is a threat of them escaping... If they continue to improve I will redo the chiller and put the top back on to octo-proof. Will also attempt some better pictures later on if I have time to do so.

One thing I did notice is that these seem to have some yellow dots on them. I have only seen them faintly exhibited, but will try and get a decent shot of them if I can for identification help.
More improvement again in a relatively short time span. One found a hiding spot and is under the rocks. It started to move around when I introduced some periwinkles as I know they can handle the cold water (30 of them from the Asian Food Market for $1.89). There are also some little neck clams in there for nutrient absorption and also as a potential fod source. Off to a class and then will try and feed them red claw crabs later this evening.
The one that started out looking better (a female I believe, have yet to see a modified arm) seems to be not as healthy as the one that looked worse for the wear when I put them in. Here's some pictures of it including the eye which is retracted back into the body, although it's also sitting in an area of flow and in the light so that might be contributing to this behavior.

Here's the other one that clearly is a male as you can see from the modified arm.


Here's a video of the two of them. It starts with the female in the front. She is leaning over slightly due to the current from the return. The male is the one in the corner that is far more active and moves around a lot more right now. Neither showed any interest in the crab that you can see in the corner when the male moves off, but the female may have eaten a snail earlier as I found an empty shell where she was and I dropped the snail onto her earlier today. Could also be that the snail crawled off and this is an old snail shell, though, as I did not see her actually eat it.
That modified arm may help ID these guys but finding a source is difficult (I think I have seen one like that somewhere but can't dredge up the location :old:). @Neogonodactylus or @mucktopus might have a clue since they have done a lot of diving on the other side of the world.

If I saw a Caribbean looking like the female I would immediately think senescence but not knowing anything about the species, the though could be totally wrong.

There are several octopuses with ocellus that are listed being native to Japanese waters (from Norman again) and likely elsewhere (O. cyanea has a pair but there are others). If the ones you see alive have eyespots, I don't think they would be bimacs (but bimacs are eaten and dead animals can be sold with proper licensing) mostly because they cannot be harvested for live sale off the coast of CA and that is there primary habitat (they can be found in lower numbers both north and south). This sounds like an interesting store to continue to visit. I only found the periwinkles once in one of our markets. No one could tell me if they were salt or fresh (there are both) so I experimented and found the one place in saltwater did fine and the one in fresh, not so well. The reset went into a saltwater tank and did quite well until I added a vulgaris :roll:. Littlebit loved them (but she would eat anything that moved).
Is your new market an H-Mart? We went by ours today to get shrimp (they were out of blue crabs) and saw our first live geoduck clams (as I was leaving I did a head slap and wondered why I did not take a picture :roll:) along with live abalone. We tried an abalone before but the tanks are too warm so I knew not to try the geoduck but it was really cool.

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