• Looking to buy a cephalopod? Check out Tomh's Cephs Forum, and this post in particular shares important info about our policies as it relates to responsible ceph-keeping.

Ceph. Research Questions

Sep 27, 2006
Hey everyone,

I'm a biology student (Middlebury College, VT) thinking of starting up some research that looks at the learning capabilities of cephalopods (All well-treated, non-invasive, observation based!). Basically, in order to collect reliable and meaningful data, I'll need to culture multiple organisms in our college animal facility in order to run learning trials and study these interesting animals. I've been doing as much research as possible about this massive undertaking, and I understand that patience is a huge virtue. This is why I'm planning on starting the tank cycling process this spring in hopes of having livable conditions for the cephs starting late summer/early fall. This forum appears to be one of the top knowledge basins I've come across, and I was wondering if anybody had some general pointers that I should consider when putting together the tank setups and picking species.

The good news: We have ample space in temperature/light/anything controlled rooms, and can draw on (reasonable) funding. I have kept a wide variety of freshwater fish and plants for quite a while personally, and understand the need for quality equipment and careful planning. The animal facility staff and I are willing to spend lots of time keeping salt tanks in prep for the fall.

The bad news: Nobody really has a lot of experience keeping marine organisms. Last year we kept brittle stars, but due to a lack of equipment and knowledge I'm sure the setups weren’t ideal. (Basically mixing salt water to 1.024, letting it sit, adding to 25 gallon tank with multiple hang on filters+airstones, gravel substrate with hiding places, no fluorescent or compact lighting, just overhead ambient).

I'm in contact with as many people in Vermont as I can locate who have experience/knowledge about keeping salt tanks and especially cephs, but if anybody has any suggestions for our initial purchases (i.e., we're starting up some simple fish/live rock tanks, what would be smart so they easily convert to ceph tanks in a few months) I would GREATLY appreciate your input!

Thank you in advance,
This forum appears to be one of the top knowledge basins I've come across
Confirmed. :smile: Someone smarter than me will be along to help on this soon! I'll look forward to your posts in the coming months; will be very interesting to see how this goes! Best of luck -- you're in the right place.
:welcome: to TONMO! I don't wear a smart person hat in the "tank talk" forum, but I might be able to fake it talking about the actual biology and behavior aspects...
monty;86653 said:
:welcome: to TONMO! I don't wear a smart person hat in the "tank talk" forum, but I might be able to fake it talking about the actual biology and behavior aspects...

Awesome! Any suggestions on species to look at/avoid based on their behavioral tendencies (obviously avoiding the blue ring). I suppose we'd be looking for individuals that seem especially interested and "aware"/active....
Hi Outi,

I am no expert at the tank cycling issues (and I'm new on the forum too, so I'm sure you'll get much better advise than from me), but I work on learning and memory in cephs (mostly Nautilus but I've done some work on octos too). What kind of stuff are you planning to test?

In my limited experience bimacs are pretty good for behaviour experiments - they're quite interactive in experimental setups.

I've had minimal luck with briareus and (edited- I had doflieni here), I meant rubescens (many hours of JST - 'Just Sat There' in the recordings). Vulgaris is a good choice for learning exps, but they can get large and rowdy. GPOs are fantastic to work with but when we had them they were very expensive to buy and ate a huge number of crabs every day...

I have a ton of excellent papers on learning and memory in cephs, so if you're in need of any extra reading (or are having trouble getting good papers), let me know, maybe I can help.
Thanks for the species advice, a bimac sounds like a great plan...

We're still in the planning stage as to exactly what we're going to test, but I'm thinking of trying to really zero in on what exactly the animals are keying on when they learn new behaviors. From what I understand, these organisms have survived almost as a direct result of their adaptability as well as their cognitive plasticity. I know there is a great deal of research and published material about disabling sections of the brain and determining the impact it has on their learning abilities, but I'd be more interested (and morally inclined! These animals while not vertebrates are clearly capable of higher cognition) in finding what enhances their learning rather than what disables it.

I think that the majority of my problems will come from the physical upkeep. We have a machine shop here that I can use; however things like building a sump/drilling a tank and planning out powerheads/skimmers and the like are all novel regions of understanding to me. Like I said, our marine upkeep here is functional for the rudimentary specimens we do keep, but in order to have functional octopi you clearly need to understand a lot more about aquaria and equipment than I currently do. On a side note, I absolutely love reef tanks and plan on owning one as soon as I reside somewhere for more than 4 years, so anything tips people have about initial tank prep and upkeep are very welcome!
Best, -O
The selection of species should also be based on how much space you actually have!!!! Bimacs for example need a minimum tank size of 50G per octopus, generally octopus cannot be housed together either!!! Dwarf species can be held in 30 G. You'll also need to source a very LARGE quantity of food......these guys eat rather a lot. Some species (eg Bimac) can be trained to eat frozen food, but it varies from individual to individual. Good rule of thumb too, feed marine species to marine species (FW only as a treat.......a particular hobby horse of mine as anyone on this forum can tell you :biggrin2:).

You'll also need to make sure your tanks are extremely secure, these guys can squeeze through the tiniest gap and lift surprisingly heavy weights. I had a student who looked at hierarchical behavour in Octopus warringa here in NZ and the lids were so tight we had to get our workshop guy to design a special tool to get them off!!!!!!!

Last thing check your water quality regularly, octopus are waste producing machines and they don't tolerate much in the way of poor water (especially spikes in ammonia/nitrate/nitrite). If you have a flow through system so much the better but secure mesh over the inflows and drains (we have had midget octopus climb up the inflows against the water current and turn up in a tank in a completely different room :shock:!!!!)


OutlawBoater92;86654 said:
Awesome! Any suggestions on species to look at/avoid based on their behavioral tendencies (obviously avoiding the blue ring). I suppose we'd be looking for individuals that seem especially interested and "aware"/active....

Well, even there I have to fake it, since I don't have real firsthand experience, just a lot of reading and a bit of secondhand. That being said, Sepia officinalis and Octopus vulgaris seem to be very popular animals for this sort of thing, and at least anecdotally a number of the smaller octopuses seem to be good candidates as well: bimaculatus/bimaculoides, briareus, rubsecens, cyanea. Or going bigger, GPOs (Enteroctopus dofleini) are good, too, but require a much larger tank (but they do live longer, if that's useful for your research goals).

You can get a pretty good idea of the popular animals just by flipping through Hanlon & Messenger and looking at which animals have been used in lots of experiments.

I expect the NRCC folks & Roy & marinebio_guy and others will have actual advice based on experience, so you should probably consider this stuff from me amateurish in comparison...

but I like talking about it!
Thanks everyone for the tips so far!

Ok here's roughly what I've put together for a general setup outline.

We have what looks like a 40 and what is a 55 gallon tank open for business. Would it be smarter to have a single water supply setup (is this possible?) or to treat both tanks as individuals and buy equpiment accordingly. I don't really care what the tanks look like (a plus), as long as we can provide an enriched existance for these guys.
I plan on a protein skimmer, and building (?) a sump based on online guides from so claimed sump-masters. (Correct me if I'm wrong here....Water overflows from the tank into the sump, where it is heated/cooled/filtered/skimmed/what have you and then pumped back into the tank afterwards? How would one go about drilling a tank and also preventing octopod exploration....a mesh of sorts?) We're also going to keep a tank of food varieties growing and healthy (hopefully!)
Does the water return account for enough water movement or should we find other means to circulate within the tank?

While the nature of trials conducted is still TBA, what would everyone think about having a specific trial tank? Is transfer enough of a problem that we should avoid it all together based on inking risks? Should we look into some sort of a trial/living region separation? (I know they're hard to keep in and out of places!)

It's starting to come together....I'm thinking of getting started on some live sand/rock around a month or so from now. Thanks again for all and ANY ideas people might have.

Hey there - it sounds like your plans are coming together. Again, I can't offer much for the tank setup plans, but maybe I can help some more with the trial setup (which I know is off-topic for this area - sorry all)

Transfer can be a problem with large animals, but small ones can be moved easily enough by taking them inside their own shelter (like a piece of PVC pipe). This cushions the moving shock quite a lot, since part of their house is moving with them. You will probably need to do some preliminary observations to determine what you consider adequate acclimation times after being moved. This depends on the individual animal and the species you're using. An extra advantage of this is that the animal itself will get used to being moved, and may acclimate sooner over time.

Overall, I think having a specific trial tank depends on what you're testing. Eg - if your looking at responses to objects - tactile discriminations, object manipulation and food capture, I think doing these in the home tank is better - objects can be easily placed at minimal disturbance to your subject. If instead you want to look at responses to situations - maze navigation, habituation to surroundings, conditioning to visual stimuli, etc, perhaps a separate trial tank will serve you better. One of the nicest setups I've seen footage of was of a long rectangular tank, with a sliding glass partition down the centre - one half as living quarters, the other as trial space. When a trial was to start, the experimenter lifted the partition, and the animal could move into the trial side as it chose. This allows you to discount handling stress and habituation time and allows you to set a standarisied 'start time' when the animal moves into the trial space. Can you do something like that with your space?? If you can, I recommend it as the way to go.

One other thing to keep in mind is that it's very important that the experimenter and equipment be concealed from the animal during trials - so you should consider including space in your setup to hang blinds between the tanks and you (we do this with black trash bags hung from a ceiling beam). This is another argument for separate trial space if your general aquarium surrounds are really noisy or full of activity.

Hope this helps. Good luck!
hi there, i was visiting the sea life center in brighton a few weeks ago and i seem to remember that the university of surrey (uk) has been doing quite extensive behavioural research for some years now on sepia officialis so it might be worth contacting them? University of Sussex - a leading, research-intensive university
also the sea life center in brighton has quite an extensive ceph selection including an atlantic octopus that they've been studying in detail.
hope this helps.
I don't know the research end of ceph keeping, but I do know husbandry and tank setup fairly well.

I would suggest bimacs from the NRCC. They are manageable in size, intelligent and not nocturnal. I agree, 50 gallon tanks would be good and separate systems would be best in case of a catastrophic error in one tank.

I find saltwater very similar to freshwater, with 3 major differences:
1. water changes are a PITA
2. Cycle takes longer and is more important
3. use good live rock -1 lb per gallon is fine-just needed to seed and filter

Mix the saltwater and let it sit a day with a powerhead and then drain and change water every 3-4 weeks.
After a 2-3 month cycle using livestock and live rock you have a finished tank.
You will need a protein skimmer for each tank-cephs generate much more waste than the same size fish and are more sensitive to it. Also to remove inking and add oxygen to the water with increased flow.
I like wet/dry filters best, but I have used canister filters also. Wet/dry would be cheaper if you DIY, but the canister would eliminate overflows, siphon problems, drilling the tank, and escape problems.

Know the nitrogen cycle so you can tell what the test kits are telling you and you will do fine.
Thanks again to everyone for their helpful insights!


I do have the means to DIY just about anything, about how large of a wet/dry filter would you suggest? (A tank that is roughly 50-60 gallons and probably L shaped). Also, I've seen a wide variety of wet/dry setups and suggestions, ranging from keeping live rock to snails to normal filters in the wet section. Are there any considerations I should make that apply especially to octopods?

I should also ask about marine lighting....I know that the octopus doesn't need especially bright lights, but to upkeep live rocks and livestock to cycle the tank before we obtain some octopi would it be wise to invest in a "medium brightness" >60w fixture?


Shop Amazon

Shop Amazon
Shop Amazon; support TONMO!
Shop Amazon
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon and affiliated sites.