Species group: Octopus and Squid
Other common names:
Scientific name: Octopus briareus
Although not recommended for beginners, the Caribbean Reef Octopus is one of the hardier species – “hardy”, at least, by Octopus standards! There has even been some success in hatching eggs and rearing young in captivity.
The Caribbean Reef Octopus’ range extends from the southeastern USA through the Caribbean Sea to northern South America. Separate populations are found in the Pacific Ocean, off western Central America.
It favors coral reefs, but is also found among rocks and seagrass beds in shallow water.
Appearance / health:
The stocky mantle (head and body) is 40 to (rarely) 100 cm (15-39 in) in length, and the noticeably-slender arms span up to 58 cm (23 in). The skin color is usually a shade of blueish-green, but may change to glowing red, green or other colors. The skin’s texture is subject to change as well.
In common with related species, the Caribbean Reef Octopus’s natural life span is only 12 – 18 months, and it is extremely sensitive to copper, ammonia, and nitrates in the water. When startled or stressed, Octopuses release a black, inky liquid designed to confuse predators. In the confines of an aquarium, however, ink can prove fatal to an Octopus.
Behavior / temperament:
This Octopus is quite intelligent, learning to open jars in order to obtain food, and seems to enjoy playing with Frisbees and other items. Nocturnal and extremely shy, some will eventually accept food from tongs.
No Octopus, however calm, should be handled or hand-fed, as all produce venom and can deliver a painful bite with their hard, curved beaks. While fatalities from the commonly-sold species are unknown, the possibility of a serious allergic reaction to their venom must be considered.
The Caribbean Reef Octopus requires a well-filtered 75 gallon or larger aquarium that has been cycled for 2-3 months and is provisioned with a thin layer of sand. They are consummate escape artists, putting snakes to shame, so the filter canopy must be weighted or secured with clips, and all hose/wire openings must be sealed. Wet/dry and other out-of-tank filters are the best options, and a protein skimmer is advisable.
Lighting should be subdued; a red night-viewing bulb will allow you to observe your pat’s nocturnal wanderings. Caves, preferably of live rock, are essential. All rockwork must be secured, using silicone if necessary, as Octopus are incredibly strong – and they seem to delight in trashing whatever homes we provide for them!
The Caribbean Reef Octopus should be maintained at a specific gravity (salinity) of 1.025-1.026 and a pH of 8-8.4. They fare best at 23-27 C (73-80 F).
Youngsters and newly-acquired adults often refuse all but live shrimp and crabs; green, fiddler, Asian shore, and other crabs may be collected or purchased at bait shops. In time, most pets can be weaned to non-living foods. The diet should be varied, and include crabs, clams, mussels, scallops, snails, abalone, and spearing and other fishes.
Captive breeding is rare, with fights and/or predation being the usual result when two individuals are introduced. Female Caribbean Reef Octopuses guard their eggs within caves or other shelters, sometimes blocking the entrance with rocks and shells. They generally do not feed during the 40-80 day incubation period, and usually expire shortly after their 100-500 eggs hatch.
Written by Frank Indiviglio