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Pygmy Octopus

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Species group:

Other common names: Harlequin Octopus, Lesser Pacific Striped Octopus

Scientific name: Octopus chierchiae

The basics:
The Pygmy Octopus, as of yet rarely-kept, is tiny, somewhat social, and breeds several times throughout its life – qualities that should endear it to Cephalopod fans once its husbandry needs are better-understood.

The Pygmy Octopus is limited in range to the Pacific coast of Nicaragua and Panama.

It inhabits the shallow reaches of the intertidal zone, and is able to move over wet rocks from one tide pool to another.

Appearance / health:
The well-named Pygmy Octopus can rest comfortably on a US quarter when fully-grown.

In common with related species, the Pygmy Octopus’s natural life span is only 8-12 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 species behavior has not been well-studied, but Octopuses generally break all invertebrate rules, being intelligent and often very responsive to careful owners.

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.

Housing:
The Pygmy Octopus requires a well-filtered 10 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, especially given their tiny size, 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 bulb will allow you to observe your pat’s nocturnal wanderings. Empty shells seem to be their preferred shelters.

The Pygmy Octopus should be maintained at a specific gravity (salinity) of 1.025-1.026 and a pH of 8-8.4. They have been kept at 23-25.5 C (74-78 F).

Diet:
Youngsters and newly-acquired adults often refuse all but live crabs; small green, fiddler, and other crabs may be collected or purchased at bait shops. In time, they may accept non-living foods. The diet should be varied, and include crabs, clams, mussels, scallops, snails, abalone, and other marine invertebrates. Spearing and other fishes should also be offered.

Breeding:
Captive breeding is rare, but possible, as the Pygmy Octopus seems somewhat more sociable than other species, with pairs sometimes sharing the same den. Oddly for an Octopus, females may produce multiple clutches over the course of their lifetimes, and have been observed (in captivity) to feed while attending their eggs.

Written by Frank Indiviglio

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