Maori Octopus Enrichment

Nov 19, 2007
Hi everyone!!

I have started doing some enrichment with the Maori Octopus here at Melbourne Aquarium in Australia and I have some pretty cool pics and videos that I thought you might be interested in.

The first one I tried was a colourful parrot toy I got off ebay and stuffed with squid (leaving some squid tentacles hanging out of the ball). He took the ball along his tentacles to his mouth, then he enveloped with his arms just like in this video....

After that he sat on the rock with the ball under his mouth, you can see it in the photo as a very cute bulge! He got the squid out, but didn't eat it.



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After that I thought he let go of the ball, so I went to pick it up out of the water, but it was still attached to two of his suckers, he didn't want to let it go!


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Thanks for the pics, it looks like fun. Is squid normally part of his diet?
More enrichment!!!

This time I gave him an empty plastic vegemite jar (well, he is an aussie octopus!) with holes in it and a piece of yummy oily pilchard inside. See first photo for the jar with lovely fish juice dripping on my hand...

He took the jar and wrestled with it at the surface for a few minutes. He also hung onto his colourful ball with a few suckers while this was happening. See next two photos for this...

as well as this video

The last photo shows him sinking to the bottom, holding the ball with a few suckers, and with the jar hidden somewhere in his web of arms near his mouth.

This video will also show him sinking with the jar and the ball....



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And here he is holding the vegemite jar, you can see the yellow lid. He spent a whole hour trying to get it open! He wasn't successful :indiffer: But next time I will try and ease him into it gently, and am going to give him the jar without a lid a few times, and then place the lid on without screwing it, and then gradually screw the lid tighter...

In answer to your question:
Our Curator said he likes squid, pilchards and whiting, so I am feedin those to him at the moment. I am going to start using some live food soon, possibly soldier crabs.


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I'm an Education Officer at the aquarium at the moment and have been 'playing' with the octopus before my shifts. I am trying to become an Aquarist/Keeper.... it will happen eventually!
I am hoping to turn the enrichment into a study, but at the moment I have been getting too excited and forgetting to record exact times and observations. I'll make up some data sheets to keep me on track!

I'll keep you posted with new photos and videos.

Any suggestions and feedback would be welcomed!
One thing you might keep in mind when writing up a project and data sheets is that "enrichment" is difficult to define and even more difficult to quantify. From a scientific standpoint, I have read few papers, if any the more I think about it, that are able to actually prove that the "enrichment" accomplished the desired outcome. Would you be able to prove that an octopus opening a jar to obtain food "enriched" (good or bad) the animal?

If you are just doing this for fun or guest interaction then it really is not a big issue, but if you are going to state the effect "enrichment" has on the specimen then you need to clearly define your goals and be able to clearly quantify those goals.

That's really interesting stuff Suze. Our octopus here in Southern NZ used to be classified as O. maorum but was reclassified (By the great Dr O!:notworth:) as Pinnoctopus cordiformis in 1999 (I think!). They look REALLY similar but you would never get ours eating dead food, we have tried so many times (it would be a great advantage in winter when we can't get the boats out!) so we must supply live food. They're also not terrifically interested in toys, although I must confess we don't try too hard with artificial toys (Boss is very much into having the display as natural as possible!) we use live food, rocks, weed, and of course the occasional (occasionally, every day :grin:) game with the staff (tug of war with the net, helping hand etc is a fav!).

We're trying to persuade her to let us put in on of those animal habitats for small mammals in with the midget octopus as that would replicate a natural environment but we'd be able to see the blighters!!!!


gjbarord;106720 said:
From a scientific standpoint, I have read few papers, if any the more I think about it, that are able to actually prove that the "enrichment" accomplished the desired outcome. Would you be able to prove that an octopus opening a jar to obtain food "enriched" (good or bad) the animal?


Really? There have been quite a few papers written on enrichment. Have a look at these just for a start (they are on primates though). There's lots more out there too.... I do agree that we need more research, and I couldn't find anything like these papers for cephs!
Baker, 1997 K.C. Baker, Straw and forage material ameliorate abnormal behaviors in adult chimpanzees, Zoo Biol. 16 (1997), pp. 225–236
Bloomsmith et al., 1988 M.A. Bloomsmith, P.L. Alford and T.L. Maple, Successful feeding enrichment for captive chimpanzees, Am. J. Primatol. 16 (1988), pp. 155–164.
And this book is good too: D.J. Shepherdson, J.D. Mellen and M. Hutchins, Editors, Second Nature: Environmental Enrichment for Captive Animals, Smithsonian University Press, Washington, DC (1998),

Goals for enrichment can be quite simple (eg. increase foraging time) and easy to quantify (measure time spent foraging).

With the octopus, my goals are to make feeding time more challenging, so that he would spend more time and effort trying to get his food (in the wild he isn't handed a dead pilchard, he has to catch it!). And also to keep him more active. I was thinking of creating an activity budget for days without enrichment and comparing it to days when I am am doing enrichment. Greg, would you have any other suggestions? Your comments really made me think, and I'd like your input :smile:
Jean;106733 said:
and of course the occasional (occasionally, every day :grin:) game with the staff (tug of war with the net, helping hand etc is a fav!).


Well ours may eat dead food, but I am impressed that you can play with your occy! I am quite wary of this one, other staff have been bitten and had their arms pulled right into the water by Maori Occys. I shut the mesh lid when he gets too close for comfort.... Do you have any photos of your exhibits? I'd love to see some.
Jean, Kelly Tarlton's has had the occasional P. cordiformis (though mostly it's O. gibbsi these days) and they are invariably fed dead food, with the occasional exception of a few tiny shore crabs for some hunting fun. Granted, the last one didn't last very long (I only met her once :cry:) but she was already quite large when the guys brought her in.
Interestingly, I only ever got nibbled by O. gibbsi, never one of the P. cordiformis. And as you can imagine, I had my hands in the tank quite a lot... :roll:

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