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Help - my Octo ate his own leg!!!!!!!!


May 20, 2003
Can anyone help me? What should I do? My Bali Long Leg Octopus -Shaggy has eatten one of his own legs while it was still attached to his body. :shock: I have heard of them eating a leg that has been detatched, but never this self mutilation. I just fed him shrimp on Saturday, and I've seen a few small ones still around. Is it stress, sould I do a water change? I just tried feeding him a mussel and he isn't eatting it. He still has his leg in his mouth and it is about half the lenght of the others! What do I do? :?:

Please Help,

Hi Claudia,

This is not unknown in octopuses. Often this type of self mutilation is a result of stress, like shipping stress. It's not because of hunger or lack of food. Sometimes it seems to be environmental. There are so many areas of ceph behavior that we still don't know so much about.

Does your octopus have plenty of places to hide and feel comfortable? Does it have some things to play with? Does it have occasional live food to hunt?

How big is the tank? (I couldn't find you on the Octo Database - it would be a good idea to enter your information so that we have it on hand when we answer your questions. ) Also, I went back to look at your tank pics posted some time ago, and they didn't come up. Might want to repost a tank pic for us.

I don't have any definitive answer for you, maybe Colin can give some additional help. But it wouldn't hurt to try to distract Shaggy. Water changes don't hurt, either.

Hi Claudia, sorry to hear about this problem with Shaggy
I hope it is stress but keep a VERY close eye on this, there is a disease in Octis that causes autophagy. It is incredibly infectious (to other octis not us!!) if your octi keeps doing it chances are he's got it (sorry, I HATE this :cry: ) Bernd Budelmann put out a paper on the condition. According to him autophagy is NOT associated with stress, autotomy is, this is where the octi bites off the arm but does not eat it. The suggestion is that autophagy may be caused by a bacteria, virus or prehaps even a prion (mad cow disease is caused by one of these).

I don't want to be a doom merchant (I sure hope your wee guy is OK), but if it turns out he has this disease it is essential you gut your tank and sterilise EVERYTHING. I would biff the substrate and anything you can chuck out and replace I would.

We had this disease in our octi display tanks once and we didn't completely sterilise and our next octi got it too. So we gutted the tank, got new rockwork etc redid all the plumbing biffed the nets etc AND had the tanks sitting full of a 25% solution of Sodium Hypochlorite (yep bleach ) for a few days. We then neutralised it (can't remember what with, but your supplier should be able to help with this) for a couple of days then let the tank dry out. Only then did we redo the rock etc refill and look for new inhabitants. We've had no more problems.

I sure hope it's not this but it's best to be aware that it's possible.

Hope I haven't scared you too much (that's probably a vain wish, but if Shaggy were mine I'd want to know)

Keep us all posted on how Shaggy's doing.

Best wishes Jean :cry: :cry:

Reference: Budelmann, B., 1998. Autophagy in Octopus South African Journal of Marine Science vol. 20, p. 101-108.

Thanks for the information and the warning about autophagy disease in Octos. I am keeing a close eye on Shaggy. He seems to have stopped eatting his arm, but he is not acting like himself. Normally when I turn on the lights in the mornng he comes out of hiding and dances around the tank. Today he came out an sat on the sand with all of his arms wrapped around him like a ball. I don't think any of the arms were in his mouth. He didn't stay out for long, and he is usually out most of the day.

We have lots of live rock in the tank, so he has lots of hiding places. We do have a damsel in the tank with him. They have never seemed to bother each other before. I tried to take the damsel out but I couldn't catch it. Too many hiding places. I didn't want to start moving rocks around to catch the damsel as that would stress Shaggy too much.

I'm going to do a 10-15 % water change today. I'll keep you posted on how Shaggy is doing.

A couple of the octopus' i have recieved in the UK have been missing arms and my first briareus died not long after i got it and i witnessed it severing its own arms with it's beak.

It does seem to be a bacteria/viral cause form what i can figure out but I agree with Nancy regarding environmental stress.

What i mean is that quite often it takes a 'push' from something else before something like this happens. Perhaps, the nitrates have sneaked up or the pH has crashed? Stress on the octopus like this can THEN cause a problem like autophagy to get a grip. It makes no sense for you to have had shaggy for so long then the disease kicks in unless something has happened in the tank to tire out Shaggy's immune system first.
Like Colin, I've been wondering about the timing. Could the infectuous organisim live in the tank for a long time, then suddenly attack Shaggy when his immune system wasn't functioning well?

Jean, when you had this problem, was it with new octopuses, or ones that that been in their tanks for some time?

And how is Shaggy doing? Keep us updated - I know you can feel very alone when something is going wrong with your octopus - so much easier with a dog, because you can carry it to the vet and get treatment!

Hi Nancy,

We'd had the octi for some time and the disease just popped up. There were no significant changes to the tank and nitrate build up etc isn't an issue (it's an open flow through system).

The prion idea would mean that it could lie dormant for ages (just look at C-J disease in humans). As I understand it a prion can insert itself into the organism and just sit there until triggered, by what isn't really known, so I guess environmental stress is as possible a trigger as anything. Budelmann was reporting on newly caught octis. BUT as I said we'd had ours for a while and we hadn't changed anything, as a public aquarium we have to be super careful and we have University ethics committee's to satisfy on the holding/display/health of critters (up to and including euthanasia). This disease can be a real mystery.

it's an open flow through system
Could it be that theres something coming in from the ocean that's new to the octo? (I'm assuming that the flowthrough is similar to ours-it takes sea water directly from the ocean and filters out the bigger things)
Just a guess...
Could it be that theres something coming in from the ocean that's new to the octo? (I'm assuming that the flowthrough is similar to ours-it takes sea water directly from the ocean and filters out the bigger things)
Just a guess...

Yep ours is like that too, roughly the water is pumped into gravity fed sand filters then through the tanks. It splits into three, left side of aq, centre and right side, so if there are leaks we don't have to shut down the whole place!

the reason i mention it is that the octi tank in question was on the left side. but we have a midget octi tank in the centre, it receives the same seawater, but is separate from the main octi tank. At the time it contained 6 or so midgets (Octopus warringa) none of these caught the disease. If it was coming in in the water they should've.

This is a long winded way to say "Nah, don't think so!!!"

were the 6 midget octo living together? as in co-existing with each other?

Yep! Not uncommon with this species. They set up a dominance hierarchy based on size (Perke could talk more about this as it was the subject of her dissertation last year). Once that was sorted out and they each had their own little hidey hole all was peaceful. Except at cleaning time when they try to bite the aquarist :shock: :heee:

The big ones won't tolerate another octi in the tank but are very placid for us to handle. The worst that we've had happen is the senior aquarist gotta face full of ink :o I did warn her but................... :roflmao: (she was more used to finfish at that stage!)

Face full of Ink :yuck:

Never heard of that before! Did it stain her? Does it smell?? Just curious. Never heard of that before and being out being an attack out of water must have been a real gooey mess!!!

what is the species name for the midget octo?
is easily attainable in the US?
what is its size range?
does it come out during the day? (will i see much of it?)

im very interested in the fact that i could have several in one tank!
The ink didn't smell of much at all, her face didn't stain, but her brand new white Tshirt did!, we still use in our octopus programme, it most definitely stained badly!

what is the species name for the midget octo?
is easily attainable in the US?
what is its size range?
does it come out during the day? (will i see much of it?)

The species name is Octopus warringa and I rather doubt it's available in the US being a NZ native. I'm not aware of any exporters of these. Size range, small :lol: around 10-15 cm total length . As for coming out during the day, not typically although we have had the odd individual who did. Our current one has set up home in an old milk bottle so it is on veiw even in its den!!

Sorry can't be more help!

Hi Jean; Octopus warringa Stranks, 1989 is a synonym of Octopus huttoni (Benham, 1943), so the correct name to use, with nearly 50 years priority, is O. huttoni (Benham) - parentheses required to denote change of generic status, as Benham originally described the species in the genus Robsonella (the type of which is actually a species of Pinnoctopus, and not what subsequent authors, like Robson, referred to Robsonella).

.... I did this in 1999 :heee:

The distribution of the species is New Zealand to South Australia; I am not aware of anything else remotely like this wee octopus.