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Setting up a tank for octopus vulgaris


Blue Ring
Feb 24, 2018
Vienna, Austria
hi there,

after having freshwater tanks for many years, we (Kristina and Benjie from Vienna, Austria) want to try a tank for an octopus. (Having read Sy Montgomery's "Soul of an Octopus" played an part in this.) Running a saltwater tank doesn't scare us, as Kristina is a pharmacist... Surprisingly, it does not seem to be a problem at all to get a vulgaris here (middle europe, that is).

Now we are searching for more specific information on the needs of a vulgaris. We plan to set up a 100g tank and every information on tank design, pump and skimmer capacity, water chemistry, tankmates (thinking about gorgonians, serpent stars, urchins, hermit crabs), food, etc... We found many helpful hints in different threads here (THANKS to everyone who makes this unique forum possible), but little on the vulgaris, so every advice is appreciated.

btw., we were looking for Nancy Kings "Cephalopods" book, but it seems to be impossible to get one for a reasonable price... is there any legal way to purchase it as an ebook or so?

Thanks for joining, @Benjie! Good luck with this project -- you have definitely found the right place. @Nancy - what is the latest info regarding availability of your's/@Colin's highly sought book? I know it's out of print; any e-book possibilities?
Well thank you.
To be a bit more specific on our current thoughts:
1) Filtration. For some reasons, we'd prefer to go without a sump. Would an internal skimmer (what capacity?), external filter (250g/h) plus powerheads sound good?
2) Temperature. Given that o. vulgaris is not only tropic an its habitat goes down to -600ft, there is probably no need for heating. The tank woud be set up in a room with day/night temperatures of upper 70s/upper 60s in summer 70/60 in winter (without the waste heat of all the machinery, that is). May lower temperatures even promote longevity? Or is a constant temperature, close to 80 as in an average tank, desirable?
3) Food. Actually one of our main concerns. Austria is a landlocked country, so supply of live food would be difficult. How about the chances of a vulgaris being adapted to frozen food?
4) Escape-proof tank. I realize that an octopus has an enormous strength of pulling. How about pushing? What force could it exert trying to push open a closing lid, or to lift the whole cover of the tank? (In our zoo - actually a very good and famous one - they keep them in tanks where the upper areas outside the water are covered with artificial grass which seems to be quite scratchy and say that prevents the octopuses from attempts to break out. Sounds great, but not a method for the faint-hearted, right?)
Hoping for your advice,
We have a few O. vulgaris journals that you can enjoy but these are Atlantic/Caribbean animals and will be both smaller and from warmer temperatures that an animal from the Mediterranean, Since you are fully inland, are you certain of the species availability? One of the major confusions is the use of the term Common when referring to vulgaris. Often animals imported as a "Common" octopus are not O. vulgaris but the common octopus from the location of importation. I may be mistaken but I suspect what your are readily finding is imported from Indonesia and will need a warmer environment. If the octopus is imported from the Mediterranean, however, you will need a larger tank.
Well we visited the biggest saltwater fishstore here in Vienna. The guy who is running it, being a "certified and sworn expert" (I hope I got the translation right), was very confident about getting different species (and his ability to distinguish them) within in a few weeks. I did not inquire about the provenience, though. We quickly decided to go for the vulgaris as the reports sound the most exciting. In his opinion, a 100g tank would have been ok, he even proposed one a bit smaller one.
Could you please explain the difference between the Atlantic/Mediterranean origin? From what I know the Atlantic octopuses are mainly found around the British islands, the Canaries and the Azores - which would be the colder habitats, compared to the Mediterranean sea. So I would have expected the latter also to be the smaller ones? Or am I wrong here?
A larger tank is out of question due to its weight (which is also why we would like to forego the sump). If you think that the 100g tank would not be sufficient, we would have to check for the availability of other species.
Thanks for your reply!
The "Atlantic"/Caribbean I mentioned are from the US Coast and are smaller and live in warmer waters than European animals. However, the major importers bring animals in from Indonesia where O. vulgaris is not common (there Abdopus aculeatus is the "common" octopus). If you can find out the origin of the animals they import, it will go a long way toward an ID.

A sump is particularly helpful for an octopus tank as it puts all the hardware external to the display and makes it much easier to octoproof the tank. Astroturf is often used in large aquariums but it needs to be wide enough to prevent the octopus from reaching over it, no something most home systems can accomplish due to tank depth.

We have several members who have successfully used a canister filter instead of other filtration set up but you need to be very careful to monitor the water for ammonia and nitrites. In addition to more safely locating the skimmer and filtration, a sump adds water volume to help dilute the pollutants. Octopuses are very heavy polluters.

An octopus can be fed most anything it will from a saltwater fish market. Fish should be kept to a minimum but frozen shrimp, fresh crab (NOT frozen or cooked. I recommend the claws only as feeding a whole crab can easily pollute the tank). The larger animals can open clams and I usually keep a couple in their tanks to act as filters until they are consumed. Oysters will also be eaten but ten to make a mess so I don't offer them. Any kind of small live crab, even is only occasionally offered, is a good idea. I DO NOT recommend putting any kind of live fish in the tank, for food or as a tank mate.
In the 2000s there were three graduate students working on cephalopods not far from you, here: Research They had a number of captive O. vulgaris from Italy at that time. I don't think there is any continued cephalopod work there now but am not certain.
Hi Benjie,

Octopus vulgaris is the most kept octopus in europe aquariums so there is a decent amount of knowledge in that community. There is also a decent amount of research as well as there is a big research lab in naples studying them. When you say a 100g tank I'm assuming that is gallons (sorry I talk in litres). The size would be a problem once the animal got bigger just due to potential swimming behaviour enough space to move around. It comes down to a question of the animal being able to survive versus having a good quality of life which with a smaller tank may influence this. Most people in aquariums keep them in around 1000L tank but obviously that varies considerably. O.vulgaris will happily take dead food so this is not a problem food sourcing wise. as mentioned by D water chem is something that is really important, we currently use a remote monitoring system for our octopus tank which tracks ammonia,pH, temp and light I can give you details if it is something you are interested in.
Hello everybody,
I mailed the fish store and got the information that they import O. vulgaris with a length of 5-10cm and that they expect it to grow to about 25cm. Did not get information about the origin, though, I think I will visit it again to talk things over.

Assuming it's a species that big, would you (all of you :smile:) think that would be suitable for a 100 gallon/400 litres tank? I realize that is small for an animal that big. On the other hand, no tank whatsoever would meet its swimming needs; so maybe a small tank with rich and appealing layout would compensate this to some extent? Or is this just wishful thinking? (Which leads to the question whether we should keep them in tanks at all... which I am still uncertain about.) From Montgomery's book I learned that obviously octopuses in public aquariums, which are not on display, are kept in rather small containers behind the scenes without losing their ability and interest to interact..

@perke, I was not lucky to get information from european forums, maybe you could disclose some links? The language, unfortunately, would be limited to english and german.

An alternative they (the fish store) offered was O. bocki, but judging from the journals here, they seem to be extremely short-lived, at least in a tank.

I understand that water quality is critical, but as mentioned, Kristina is a pharmacist, so there is a sound understanding of chemistry, plus she works with substances in the milligram range on a daily basis. So I do not intend to look arrogant, but this bit worries us the least.

And since she is mentioned again, I guess most of you already know this video, but maybe some will enjoy it: here is Montgomery giving a lecture on her book:

Thanks again for your thoughts!
Sorry for the delay. I checked back with the fish store guy and he confirmed he imports the animals from southeast Asia, mainly Phillipines and Indonesia. As I inquired if then this would be O. vulgaris or A. aculeatus, he answered that both would be distinguished and available (he added that an aculeatus would be a bit harder to get).

SO... actually I think we just for it. We'd prefer a vulgaris, but if it turns out to be an aculeatus, these guys should be fun, too (although I took from the "Journals" section that they tend to have a really short lifespan which really is a sad thing ... a browsed through a dozen of reports and calculated an average lifespan in the tank of just over three months).

The setup we'd plan right now includes a 100g/400l tank plus a 25g/100l sump, 60p/30kg of live and reef stone. Main question right now, should we include a compartment for algae in the sump to keep oxygen high, esp. during nighttime?

@perke, thanks for your offer. I guess, though, that you were having mediterranean specimen in mind? Would you comment on pH/temp/light details for the origin mentioned above?

thank you all
(hoping to get rid of that humiliating "larval mass" status anytime soon)
Aculeatus is a great home tank species but, as you have noted, they are usually caught as adults. I would be very surprised if they ever get vulgaris. I know this seems odd since it is the most common octopus (ie believed to live in all oceans) but we rarely see them for sale and have never seen one from importers (keep in mind I can only speak for what we see on TONMO and most journals are in the US). Let the adventure begin :biggrin2:

It never hurts to grow algae in the sump. However, keep in mind that algae will need more than ambient lighting.

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