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New, need help with handling octopus

Feb 9, 2009
Greetings oh supreme scholars of Teuthology,

I am a Junior from a High school called Rivercity Leadership academy. I currently am in charge of a 65gl salt water tank ,which is currently inhabited by a small octopus. I have raised one before in the same tank, but she die shortly after she laid her eggs (wild caught). I use this tank to teach some of the students some basic Marine science. Anyway, please don't hold any of this against me. I am eager to learn, and am will to listen to you all. I'm not the best at English ,Give me a chance and please I beg you to be patient with me.

Thank you,

Moving on, I currently have an octopus that I wish to physically interact with. He is fairly new and is eating frozen foods, but seem a little different. My previous octopus would hide and come out when I fed her, but is completely the opposite. It pulled a shell to the closest right corner of the tank with a shell, but most of his body is completely visible. That is also where he was introduced into the tank. Another thing is anytime I put my hand anywhere near him, he doesn’t hesitate to approach and grasp my hand. On one occasion He completely engulfed my hand, but luckily I managed to get him off before he was in the position to do any damage without hurting him. My question is why is he doing this, and how would I be able to physically communicate with it.

Thank you.

sorry about the spelling
Sep 8, 2006
Welcome to TONMO!

Sounds like your octopus is acting naturally, inspecting your hand. It could be prey, it could be a predator, so the octopus is likely just inspecting it to figure out which. After it is secure in knowing you aren't going to act aggressively toward it, it may try to dominate (attack) your hand or it may just "enjoy" the interaction. Safest thing is to never allow the octopus to completely engulf your hands with its arms and webbing. Although its actual bite might not harm you, the possibility of infection is very real. Keep physical interaction to one or two arms around a finger. Tug of war is a fun game they usually will engage in, preferably with a stick instead of your hand.

As far as communication between a human and an octopus goes, I don't quite know what you're asking for. If you're wondering if you can teach it tricks, I'd say no. At least not in the sense of teaching other animals like dogs tricks. You may be able to help it learn to remove lids from containers.

Member Gjbarord has some actual research experience with octopuses, as well as member Neogonodactylus. They may be able to give you some pointers or some ideas on experiments you could recreate to demonstrate whatever goal it is you are working toward.


Staff member
Sep 4, 2006
Almost all octopuses die shortly after brooding eggs, this is natural.

Can you show pictures of your new octopus? Does it stay out in the daytime? Do you know the ocean that it came from?

Yes, it is possible to interact with some octopuses but it is important to know what kind, one kind is deadly poisonous. Do not put your hand in the tank until you know that it is safe.

If you have a toxic octopus, it would be best to return it to the seller or euthanise it as an open school classroom is not a safe place for this kind of animal. Hopefully we can establish that it is not one of the dangerous ones but they are sold and sometimes the seller either does not know or does not inform the new keeper.

Once you can determine the species (or at least know that it is not toxic) you can begin to interact but keep in mind that all octopuses can bite and do have a venon that can cause some people to have sever alergic reactions (like bee stings).

This is the method I have used with two hummelincki with great success and to a lesser degree of success with a mercatoris (nocturnal dwarf):

Begin interaction by petting the octopus from the outside of the glass. After he accepts this and will come to the glass and stay with you, pick a convenient place that will be the petting area (OhToo's is the top right corner of his tank). Put your fingers in and let the octopus come to you. Do not chase it. Allow him explore your fingers but do not allow him to pull them near its mouth. With mine, simple resistence has been enough to avoid being bitten but species and individuals have different traits. Do not attempt to interact if you have just handled its food (or anyother potential food, including dead fish removed from another aquarium). The suckers are used to taste and any trace of food will confuse it. When he starts to go to the play area when he sees you or does not leave immediately after touching you and has stopped trying to pull on you finger, use a free finger to very gently pet the mantle or between the eyes. This should be an extremely light touch (touching should always be very light). This is as much as my one dwarf would interact but the two hummelinckis enjoyed being petted nightly and would eventually accept petting under the mantle and at the base of the arms in addition to between the eyes. OhToo will slide between my fingers, make a circle and repeat the action without any suggestion of aggression.

Limit where your hand will go (I use the top 1/4 of the tank against the glass). If the octopus goes outside that limit, do not follow. OhToo signals that he wants me to stop playing by going to the live rock. You will need to establish a similar signal and consistently remove your hand, close the lid and not return for a period of time. Interacting takes a bit of training, for both the keeper and the octo.

I keep feeding, cleaning and play times completely separate.
Do not confuse the octopus by trying to lure it with food.

Here is a link to OhToo's journal with photos and a video of our play time. Go down the page until you see 3 photos of my hand in the aquarium. Click on the word video and again on coming to play to see the 2 videos:


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