“I dropped the octopus on my head to show that they didn’t bite and luckily it didn’t bite me,” he said. Ross, who serves on the staff of the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, is involved with another eight legged creature now but he doesn’t wear it on his head. More »
On Feb 18, 2013, I was on Penn’s Sunday School talking to Penn Jillette, Michael Goudeau an the gang about the my work with Larger Pacific Striped Octopus, flying squid, giant squid, TONMO.com, and why the picture of me wearing a martial arts uniform while holding my daughter upside down is only number 22 on the list of 27 events that can ruin your childhood.
For the full episode https://soundcloud.com/ribbit-starr/blow-it-out-your-squid-funnel or subscribe to the podcast on itunes - http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/penns-sunday-school/id504257078 . Click here for just my part of the show.
On Jan 20, 2013, I was on Penn’s Sunday School talking to Penn Jillette, Michael Goudeau an the gang about the upcoming Discovery Channel Giant Squid footage and apparently agreeing to do something kind of dumb but possibly oddly cool.
For the full episode https://soundcloud.com/ribbit-starr/who-is-more-libertarian-glenn or subscribe to the podcast on itunes - http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/penns-sunday-school/id504257078 . Click here for just the part of the show Rich was on.Scridb filter
Keeping Sepia bandensis
Keeping Sepia bandensis – The Dwarf Cuttlefish
I’ve long considered myself a “fish guy,” but after a month working with Sepia bandensis, the Dwarf Cuttlefish, I must admit I’ve never seen, let alone kept, a more amazing marine animal than this remarkable mollusk. Despite its name, this little critter is not a fish at all but a cephalopod, closely related to octopus and squid. They’ve been described by cuttle pioneer Richard Ross of the Steinhart Aquarium as looking like little UFO’s zipping around the tank. And of all the animals that may be kept in tropical saltwater aquaria, Sepia bandensis is a most fascinating and rewarding species in so many different ways. They are visually stunning animals with the ability to change color, pattern and texture in the blink of an eye. They are perfect predators, like tiny raptors of the sea as they swoop down and snag their prey with their lightening-fast feeding tentacles. They are intelligent, interacting with their keeper and each other in subtle and dramatic ways. And at only 3-4″ long when mature, they’re small enough to make housing them a real possibility for expert hobbyists as well as public aquariums. More »
Click here for just the part of the show Rich was on. For the full episode http://soundcloud.com/ribbit-starr/penn-12-08-19-ss-squid-sperm or subscribe to the podcast on itunes - http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/penns-sunday-school/id504257078
The Marine Breeding Initiative’s 2012 workshop is next weekend, so the timing to share a pic of a captive breeding success story.
Metasepia spp have long been thought of as one of the ultimate aquarium display animals. Their colors and patterns that continually change and move across their skin make their common name obvious – the Flamboyant Cuttle. The problem? The only live about a year, and they have traditionally shipped poorly which means if you are lucky enough to get one that survived shipping, its probably near the end of its natural lifespan anyway. Captive breeding would be a no brainer, except getting broomstick has been near impossible because on the rear occasions these animals do get imported, the get imported in single digits. More »Scridb filter
Ok, now that that attention grabbing headline is out of the way, here is what happened. A lady in Korea taste tested a part of a whole parboiled squid, and had pain in her gums, tongue and cheek. Turns out par boiling doesn’t diminish the squids spermatophores capacity for firing and shooting into whatever is nearby. Have I even mentioned how awesome and amazing cephalopods are?
Evolution is amazing, the world is just awesome and gut your squid before you eat or cook it. The peer reviewed paper on this incident (its not the first time this has happened, really) is available here. Me talking about it on Penn’s Sunday School with Penn Jillette and Michael Goudeau is available here. Danna Staaf, the squid sex expert who first broke the tale here, talked about about the story recently at Nerd Nite SF in the video above – and does a great job explaining the complex apparatus of squid sperm delivery with amazing video support. PS – If you don’t know what Nerd Nite is, click here and find one near you. If there isn’t one near you start one. Super cool events.
PPS – If the above story isn’t enough squid sex for you, and not enough Nerd Nite for you, click here to see the talk I was privileged to give at a Nerd Nite SF last year about cephalopod sex.Scridb filter
On June 17, 2012, Rich Ross was on Penn’s Sunday School talking to Penn Jillette and Michael Goudeau about how a 63 year old Korean lady got squid spermataphores embedded in her cheek, gums and tongue and the peer reviewed paper on the subject. Super fun.
Click here for just the part of the show Rich was on. For the full episode http://soundcloud.com/ribbit-starr/18-penn-12-06-17-ss-episode-18 or subscribe to the podcast on itunes - http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/penns-sunday-school/id504257078Scridb filter
Collecting, Getting Stuff Home and New Discoveries
This video from the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition give you a good idea why the Verde Island Passage has been called ‘the center of the center of marine biodiversity’.
Researchers from the California Academy of Sciences have been visiting the Verde Island Passage area off the coast of Batangas Province on Luzon Island, Philippines for almost 20 years. Research by scientists during this period has suggested that this area may be the “center of the center” of marine biodiversity, and perhaps home to more documented species than any other marine habitat on Earth; there can be more species of soft corals at just one dive site than in all of the Caribbean.
Funded by a generous gift from Margaret and Will Hearst, the 2011 expedition was not only the most comprehensive scientific survey effort ever conducted in the Philippines, but also the largest expedition in the history of the California Academy of Sciences. Over eighty scientists from the Academy, the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, the Philippines National Museum, and the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources came with a mission to survey and document various aspects of the various ecosystems in the area. A further team of Academy educators attended with a mission to share the expedition’s findings with local community and conservation groups as the Expedition was happening. As part of the expedition’s shallow water team based at the renowned Club Ocellaris, Bart Shepherd, Matt Wandell and I focused upon the underwater sites that served as the inspiration for the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences 212,000 gallon Philippine Coral Reef exhibit.
In part one of this series, we covered getting the the Philippines, the realities of being on an expedition and our lucky observation of hard coral spawning. In part two we’ll look at how we collected octopus and corals, how we shipped those animals back home, and more.
From Advanced Aquarist
We shot this video last week, and even though the footage is shaky, and made slightly more so in the 60′s editing style, it still shows some pretty amazing behaviors of one of the most fascinating of all the fascinating cuttlefish, Metasepia sp. This female balances on arm tips, walks on all fours (the rear legs being articulated fleshy appendages) and, most exciting to me, hunts by aiming its two feeding tentacles in different directions. This female, and two males, are currently on display at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences, where they are mating and laying eggs regularly.
In the wild these animals are often found ‘walking’ across sand flats or much habitats away from any cover, where it has been thought they live most of their lives protected from predation by their apparently toxic flesh, flashing their flamboyant colors as a warning – don’t eat me, I am bad for your digestion. However, some recent observations lead me to want to question where these animals may actually be spending their time. Atlantis Marine World in New York has been incredibly successful at raising these animals and recently shipped 10 juveniles to the Steinhart aquarium where they are being kept behind the scenes. In their holding tank, and in the holding tank of one adult male, there is a literal wall of rock against the sides of the tanks for biological filtration, and the cuttles spend most of their time in, around, and on this rock and not on the large area of open sand. This behavior is more consistent in the adult male, who over the past month, has rarely been seen on the sand. Last summer while on an Academy expedition in the Philippines, we saw only one Metasepia on the sand, but that sand was in the surrounded by rocky reef, so it just might be the case that these hard to find animals are actually hiding in and around the reefscape. It is important to make clear that this is speculation and that hopefully more observation of these animals both in captivity and in the wild will help to yield more information about these amazing animals.
Even experienced ceph keepers with mature tanks should think long and hard before obtaining this species. Their needs are resource intensive, specific, and not yet fully understood. Perhaps more importantly, the size and health of their wild populations is unknown.
Even the sharing of information, photos and video of these animals can be controversial. Some fear that detailed information and attractive photos may encourage inexperienced saltwater aquarists to obtain specimens. Personally, I believe that knowledge should be freely available, rather than hidden from view. I also believe that the admiration of a species can be of benefit to its preservation in the wild rather than its detriment. Furthermore, it is my hope that the information on the site will empower aquarists to make sound, rational decisions regarding the advisability of keeping these very difficult animals.
For the last week or so, the popular science press has been gushing over the announcement that a giant Triassic Kraken not only killed and ate giant ichthyosaurs, not only arranged their bones, but even arranged their bones in what may be the very first ‘self portrait’. How exciting! A huge, intelligent, self aware cephalopod lived in the Triassic and actively hunted and ate 45 foot long ichthyosaurs – its a ceph lovers fantasy come true! There is of course, one small catch – there is no evidence that this Triassic Kraken actually existed.
The story in a nutshell: at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada the remains of nine 45-foot ichthyosaurs, Shonisaurus popularis have been confusing researchers since at least the 1950′s, partially due to the close proximity of the nine ichtyosaurs to each other and the odd arrangement of their fossilized vertebrae. Recently, Mark McMenamin spent some time at the site and came up with the idea that press has been running with this week – a giant, ichthyosaur eating cephalopod that arranges bones of its meals in self portraits. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to back up this idea.
The reasoning that spring boarded these conclusions into the public eye goes something like this (from the press release) :
1) A weird arrangement of the fossils made McMenamin think they bones had been purposefully arranged, and that modern octopus are known for the “intelligent manipulation of bones”.
It doesn’t seem that there is much evidence for modern cephalopods intelligently manipulating the remains of their meals. Sure, octopus tend to get rid of remains, but there appears to be no purpose to the arrangement beyond moving them away from the den. Other cephalopods like squid, do not seem to manipulate remains at all. Also, just because McMenamin thinks the bones were purposefully arranged doesn’t mean that they were – he has got to show that he has more than just his thought about the matter.
2) ”The proposed Triassic kraken, which could have been the most intelligent invertebrate ever, arranged the vertebral discs in double line patterns, with individual pieces nesting in a fitted fashion as if they were part of a puzzle.
There is no evidence of this Kracken. None. Its a cool idea, but there are lots of cool ideas. The argument that Aliens arranged the bones seems just as likely as an ancient undiscovered sea monster did arranged them
3) “The arranged vertebrae resemble the pattern of sucker discs on a cephalopod tentacle” and “the vertebral disc “pavement” seen at the state park may represent the earliest known self portrait”.
The arranged vertebrae also resemble red blood cells, pelletized fish food, teeth and any number of other things. You can see purpose in just about anything, as PZ Myers says “a line of discs is being seen as a picture of a cephalopod tentacle, classic pareidolia. This is trivial: dump a pile of Necco wafers on a table, and I’ll see a picture of squid suckers.” Why it should be thought of as a self portrait seems to be more fantastical hoping.
The end of the press release states “… the evidence for the murderous Kraken is circumstantial, which may leave some scientists rather skeptical. But McMenamin is not worried. “We’re ready for this,” he said. “We have a very good case.”” However, nothing besides the press release has been forthcoming which seems to mean that the case that McMenamin has is really only circumstantial. I hope I am wrong and fantastic, compelling evidence arises (but I am not holding my breath). Until then, the idea of this Kraken resides next to the idea of Sasquatch, Unicorns, Gandalf an Magneto in my mind as things I wish actually existed, but don’t.
From SF Nerd Nite
“Boneless Sex: How Cephalopods Make Sweet, Sweet Love” by Richard Ross
Octopus, cuttlefish, nautilus, and squid are not just smart, not just masters of camouflage, but also masters of reproduction! This talk, which amounts to ceph porn, is packed with dirty pictures and dirty video of your favorite 8-armed animals in various stages of dirty relations, from the deed itself to “birth.”
Richard works as an aquatic biologist at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences, maintaining many exhibits – including the 212,000-gallon Philippine Coral Reef – and caring for many cephalopods. An avid underwater videographer who has scuba dived all over the world, he enjoys spending time with his patient wife, his incredible daughter, and their menagerie of animals, both wet and dry.Scridb filter
In the three months since we put an Amphiocotpus marginatus we collected in the Philippines on display at the Steinhart Aquarium, the octopus, named Fontenelle, has been engaging visitors to the aquarium. Fontenelle is in plain sight 95% of the time, often in interesting ‘lookout’ poses, playing with toy squid and toy octopus, or moving its den from jars to bottles to clay pots while keeping an eye on the people watching its antics. This species is one of the boldest cephalopods I have worked with, hunting with startling speed and latching onto my arm with that same unnerving speed anytime I have to put my hand in the tank. The growth rate on this animal is amazing, and since we decided not to be invasive with gathering data with this animal because we don’t want to stress it as we learn its husbandry needs (this may be the first time this species has been on public display) the two pictures below show the growth of the octopus in just a few months.
Even more exciting, Fontenelle has learned how to open jars by unscrewing the jars lid, one of the more captivating behaviors that octopus can learn (another being squirting me in the eye when I bring shrimp). The octopus has been opening jars for a couple of weeks already, and actually learned within a couple of days, but I have been unable to capture the opening on video. Either the jar is open before I get to the front of the tank, or the jar gets opened when I leave to attend to other animals. Today I set up the tripod before putting the jar in the tank and was able to catch the act on video. Its hard to see the actual unscrewing of the lid, and the final opening of the jar looks like the octopus simply pulls the lid up, but trust me, to get to that point the lid had to be unscrewed. Now, its time to start with other jars with more threads on the lid, tightening the lid much more, and finding other objects in which to hide food.Scridb filter
Last week Godehard Kopp posted the video above of a Mimic Octopus, Thaumoctopus mimicus, and an un identifiable fish swimming amongst its arms at the divesite Jahir in the famous muck diving area of Lembeh Strait, Sulawesi Indonesia (the video of the octopus and fish starts at about. :44). Kopp followed the one octopus and fish for 15 minutes filming what appeared to be a previously unknown fish/octopus comensal relationship – a relationship in which one organism derives a benefit while the other is unaffected. Flurries of emails lit up the interwebs as fish and cephalopod and fish enthusiasts tried to determine what was actually going on in the video. Is this a commensal relationship or is something else going on?
The colors of the fish were so matched to the arms of the octopus, that it could easily be thought that this fish must have a previously un-described commensal relationship with the octopus. On the other hand, there are small fishes that swim around foraging octopus arms in search of an easy meal, so it could be that this was simply taking advantage of a possible easy meal as the octopus made its way across the muck. On the third hand, these octopus have been photographed and filmed so much in this area of the world that it might be hard to believe that this behavior had never been seen before. Perhaps the fish happened to be in the wrong place and got scared as the Kopp moved to film in, and was trying to hide in the frist thing it found – the octopus.
Initially, the fish was thought to be some kind of Blenny, but quickly the tide turned and it was thought to be some kind of Jawfish. Soon a more positive ID was soon made: Black Marble Jawfish, Stalix histrio (or another fish in the Stalix genus) shown below from Indonesian Reef Fishes by Kuiter, R.H. & T. Tonozuka. (2001). Since both the fish and the octopus live in, and are trying to blend in with, the same muck background, it makes some kind of sense that the two should share the same kinds markings and color patterns. Of course, there could still be some relationship between the fish and the octopus, more study is needed, but even if this isn’t commensal, it seems to be a brand new behavior for the fish (and possibly a new fish species!)
It was great to watch science in action in regards to this video. Observation, hypothesis, evidence, discussion, new hypothesis changing minds – science rules!Scridb filter
From Reefs Magazine
by Allison Petty
Photos by Christopher Paparo, Video by Richard Ross
The Holy Grail
As a professional aquarist, my career has presented me with the opportunity to work with a variety of remarkable marine life. Working with animals from sharks to mammals, and electric eels to reptiles has been very rewarding, but none compare to the experience of working with cephalopods. At Atlantis Marine World, I care for our two cephalopod exhibits, the giant pacific octopus and cuttlefish. They are two of the most popular exhibits at the aquarium. Their unique, almost alien-like appearance, combined with their ability to change color and shape in an instant, keeps visitors mesmerized in front of the exhibits all day. Sadly, the specimens kept in these two exhibits are not with us for long. All cephalopods have a very short life span, some lasting less than a year. They hatch, grow quickly, and die shortly after reproduction. Fortunately though, this short life means they reach sexual maturity in a reasonable amount of time, making captive breeding of many cephalopod species possible. Typically, we keep Sepia officinalis or Sepia pharaonis, and I have been fortunate enough to raise both species. Recently, however, a twist of fate has afforded me the opportunity of a lifetime.
This journey started almost a year ago when a marine life wholesaler in California called to tell us that he had some Metasepia pfefferi (flamboyant cuttlefish) coming in and asked if we were interested. Since it is considered the holy grail of cephalopods and probably the coolest animal on the planet, what could we say?
The M. pfefferi was being sent next day via FedEx, which meant there was little time to prepare. Swinging into high gear we quickly set up a home for it, which ended up being a 24-gallon Via-Aqua tank with a shallow bed of live sand. The cuttlefish arrived the very next day. We acclimated it to its new home, and I immediately fell in love. Since I have never taken care of a flamboyant cuttlefish before, I contacted Richard Ross, the “cephalopod guru”, to ask for any useful information. He told me that it is common for flamboyant cuttlefish to mate before being collected. He explained that they prefer to lay their eggs under ledges and he recommended adding coconut shell halves in the tank, just in case by some miracle we received a gravid female. It seemed like a long shot that this cuttlefish could have reached sexual maturity and mated already, as it was only 2.5 inches in length.
After giving the cuttlefish some time to settle in, we offered it a live shore shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio), which it immediately stalked and devoured. The flamboyant is like no other cuttlefish I’ve encountered before. Most cuttlefish are masters of camouflage, having the ability to blend in quite well with their surroundings by changing the texture as well as the color of their skin quickly. Flamboyant cuttlefish share this ability to blend, but can also take their appearance to the other extreme with their stunning coloration. When they feel threatened they show a remarkable rippling display of colors down their body from bright yellows and whites, to bold purples and reds, making them stand out vibrantly. This show of colors is also a way to broadcast to potential predators that it is poisonous. It is said to be as lethal as a blue-ringed octopus, making the flamboyant cuttlefish the most toxic of the cuttlefish species. Another odd behavior of the flamboyant is that unlike other cuttlefish that are usually shy and spook easily, flamboyant cuttlefish are courageous. They will stand their ground instead of jetting off into the background of their tank. These behaviors make them very intriguing and guaranteed to hypnotize anyone. Needless to say, none of us got much work done for the rest of the day.
As the flamboyant was settling in and getting comfortable in its home, I added it into my routine of daily feedings and water changes. Being that Atlantis Marine World is located on a tidal river, it is very convenient to get endless amounts of shore shrimp and killifish. These shrimp and killifish are enriched with Cyclops and salt-water mysis before they are fed out. Using live food helped maintain good water quality since any uneaten food would be alive and not foul the water. However, being that it was a new system and cycling, I did a 15% water change, 3 times a week in order to keep the ammonia, nitrates and nitrites as close to zero as possible. I kept the salinity around 33 ppt, the pH between 7.8 and 8.0 and the temperature close to 73 degrees Fahrenheit. This combination seems to keep the flamboyant happy and healthy.
After about 3 weeks of giving this flamboyant a lot of special attention the unthinkable happened: she laid eggs! The morning of July 4th was a memorable one to say the least. On my morning rounds, I stopped to say good morning to her and to my surprise there were about 20 perfect white eggs in one of the coconut halves. Ecstatic beyond belief, I needed to find someone to share my excitement and that someone happened to be Senior Aquarist, Chris Paparo. He told me not to get too worked up because he thought there was a high chance that they were infertile. However, I had a strong feeling otherwise and was excited to watch them develop.
With the exception of marine mammals and a few other taxa (damsels, cardinals, crustaceans, etc.), maternal instincts are lacking in the marine world. Most marine organisms release egg and sperm into the water, and hope for the best. The flamboyant cuttlefish is one of those exceptions. Most of the day she spent tending to the eggs, keeping them clear of detritus and other fouling agents, and guarding them from possible predation. Even though she was alone in the tank and there was no predation threat, she would still “pace” back and forth in front of the shells using her tentacles and two leg-like appendages that looked as if they were molded from the bottom of her mantle. Instead of swimming, flamboyant cuttlefish spend most of their time literally walking around on the substrate. This benthic behavior is due to their smaller than normal cuttlebone. All cuttlefish have a cuttlebone, which is made up of calcium carbonate. It is divided into chambers and depending on the buoyancy that a cuttlefish needs, it can either empty or fill these chambers with gas. Since the flamboyant cuttlefish has a small cuttlebone, they have a harder time with their buoyancy and cannot swim for long periods of time without sinking.
On August 10th, approximately a month after the first egg was laid the unimaginable happened and possibly the most important day of my career had come. While giving out her first feed of the day, I noticed the most beautiful, tiny baby cuttlefish hanging out on the wall of her tank. Not believing my eyes, standing there in shock and awe, fellow Aquarist Todd Gardner rounded the corner and asked what I was looking at. As I showed him the 1 cm long carbon copy of the adult flamboyant we stared in silence together, then celebrated for about 5 minutes before starting to think about setting up a tank for Junior.
Here at Atlantis Marine World, we believe in keeping things simple. So for Junior’s tank we used a 10-gallon tank with a hang on the back Aqua Clear mini filter and some live aragonite as substrate. After the new system was running and ready for its first occupant, I carefully scooped up the tiny baby in a deli cup and gently transferred it into its new home. Now for the hard part, what to feed this little guy? After doing some research, I found that newly hatched mysid shrimp were needed to feed Junior. I located a company in Florida, Marinco Bioassay Laboratory, which cultures mysids. After making a call, I ordered the smallest possible mysids they could ship me, which were 7 days old, and hoped it would be suitable. To my relief they were and it didn’t take long for Junior to track them down and consume them. Keeping the water parameters of the tank as close as possible to its mothers was easy enough; it was keeping the right amount of food in the tank that was more difficult. Too few mysids made catching one more difficult, but too many would stress Junior.
Over the next two months ten babies hatched. Unfortunately, two of these hatched prematurely. The two preemies had buoyancy issues and one still had a yolk sac. Needless to say, they did not survive. Keeping all eight hatchlings in the same tank worked at first, but started to become an issue when it came to feeding. Since there was a 2-month difference from the oldest to the youngest, the oldest seemed to be over powering the little ones and eating a majority of the food. At 2 months, the oldest was big enough to eat something more substantial than mysids, so I searched through the shore shrimp tank to find the smallest shore shrimp possible. At about a quarter of an inch long, I broke off the rostrum of the grass shrimp and dropped it in the tank in front of the oldest baby. To my delight he ate it right up. The feeding process started to get tedious and time consuming. It was a real challenge to make sure that all of the babies were getting enough food, so more tanks needed to be set up.
The 10-gallon set up was working just fine, so I set up two more 10-gallon tanks and another 24-gallon Via-Aqua. I size sorted the babies and split them between the four tanks. This seemed to work out well, especially when it came to feeding. Being able to see how much they were eating and weaning them from mysids to grass shrimp was easier and less stressful. Although feedings were simpler, I increased my maintenance workload by three-fold. I was still water changing their mothers’ tank 3 times a week, and now having to do the same for the four baby tanks was repetitive yet necessary to keep up with the proper parameters for these guys to grow and be healthy.
All the work I’ve been putting in with these guys was challenging and monotonous at times but it was beyond worth it. When the oldest babies reached ages of about 4-5 months, they were big enough to be displayed. Getting the “o.k.” to redo the existing cuttlefish exhibit, I replaced all the substrate and décor and revamped the overflow so the smaller cuttlefish would not get stuck to it. Once finished, I moved 6 flamboyant cuttlefish to the 500 gallon half circle exhibit. They got along for the most part. Surprisingly it was the smallest one that caused some trouble. He would get up in the others’ faces, follow them around, and threaten them. Basically it was like he had Napoleon complex and was trying to prove himself. This lasted for about 2 weeks before they all settled down, made peace with each other and made excellent display animals.
Meanwhile, back behind the scenes, their mother was still going strong. She continued to lay hundreds of eggs and took great care of them. There were no more fertile eggs by this point, but she still acted as if there were by guarding and cleaning them. She continued to eat very well until mid-January. Her eye sight started to go and she was missing her food. Like all Cephalopods when it is their time to go it is very sad to watch as they slowly perish. By my calculations she was at least 14 months old, and knowing cephalopods are short lived, I figured she had lived a long, fruitful, and what I hope was a happy life. January 27th was a sad day for me as my first and yet very successful Flamboyant cuttlefish had passed. With all that I have learned from her, I hope I get the chance to repeat this process. All I can do now is wait and see if her legacy will live on with the hope that the courtship I am seeing with the new generation will be equally bountiful.
UPDATE: As of this writing, Allison’s hopes for the second generation have been realized as evidenced by the photos and video below. Several captive bred specimens have now been reared and sent to other aquariums for further study. Congratulations on yet another stunning achievement!
The Sepia latimanus, the broad club cuttlefish, at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences are six months old and are really starting to show the behaviors of adults. Sometimes known as the Giant Cuttlefish, S. latimanus is reported to reach 50cm in length and weigh up to 10kg (though I have never seen one in the wild that size). With a lifespan of 1-2 years and such large size, it makes sense that a hatchling about 1 cm long in February could be almost 18cm long in July. Like all cephalopods, these guys are eating machines, able to completely eat a silverside in under 2 minutes – with no leftovers at all. They are being fed at least 3 times a day with different feeds including live crabs, live bait shrimp, thawed prawns and thawed silversides. With the fast growth, some issues have started to appear including minor ‘butt burn’, damage to the tip of the mantle caused by the animal jetting into the sides quickly (a big animal is a strong animal!) and inking events due to adolescent competition blackening the tank water. To help alleviate these issues, the population has been split into two groups, 2 animals on display and 4 animals in holding. The other adult behaviors are way more exciting.
In the video above (oh, blue lights and video – why do you hate each other) you can see a lot of color pulsing on the skin of the cuttles as they hunt for food. It is thought that this striking pattern and color show somehow helps in hunting, perhaps confusing prey into motionlessness. However, unlike wild adults, the color patterns have not yet reached down the two wide arms that are often stretched out horizontally during hunting – which incidentally help give this cuttle their ‘broadclub’ common name. The patterns also seem to originate at the back of the mantle, while wild adults seem to pulse more on the head and arms (as shown in the video from NOVA’s ‘Kings of Camouflage’ linked below). The other interesting behavior in the video above is the ‘banding-of-the-eyes-darkening-of-two-arm-tips-while-gesticulating-madly’ behavior (rolls off the tongue eh?), which only seems to occur when the animals are hunting silversides, perhaps this is another distraction technique.
As you can tell, I am over the moon with excitement over these behaviors, and even more excited that they are happening with the animals on display. If you are any kind of ceph-head and are in the SF area, I urge you to get down to the academy and take a look as these amazing animals while they are on display.Scridb filter
Things have been hopping at work with cephs! It is remarkable to work at a place with such diversity. Things are mating, hatching, eating and above all growing. I am amazed that the Sepia latimanus hatched in February this year are now almost 7 inches long. The Amphioctopus marginatus are growing almost visibly day by day. The Metasepia sp hatchlings are almost doing the same. Anyway, a video is worth a thousand words, so here is a bit of a long one featuring the A. marginatus on display moving faster than I thought possible, the Sepia bandensis on display (mating), the Metasepia eating and the S. latimanus eating and being burly!Scridb filter
1. Home aquarists and scientists agree- cephalopods can be really hard to keep alive in a captive environment. They require a very clean, stable seawater system, escape proof lids (for octopus), and they are picky eaters. Keeping one can be expensive, and feeding one can be expensive.
2. While some countries have strict collecting laws, many tropical animals are collected from the wild using irresponsible and illegal methods such as poaching, habitat destruction (smashing coral to catch the target animal) and/or “cyanide fishing”. Cyanide fishing involves squirting cyanide into the reef and breaking coral to dig out the poisoned, stunned animals. It kills coral, other invertebrates, and fish. Ask your aquarium shop for tank-raised animals.
3. It might be deadly. Blue-ringed octopuses are deadly. There is no anti-venom for their bite. Other octopuses are so poorly known that we don’t even know how dangerous they might be. Relatives ofAbdopus aculeatus have a poison in their bodies that’s similar to TTX, the poison in blue-ring venom (Robertson et al. 2004 Toxicon 44: 765). Striking animals like “Wunderpus” and the “Mimic” might be highly venomous. It appears that the tissue of the “Flamboyant” cuttlefish is toxic. You don’t want to be the one who finds out.
4. It might be rare, so taking a wild animal might put those cephalopod populations at risk.
5. It might try to crawl out. Octopuses are well-known for their abilities to escape aquaria. Intertidal species are notoriously hard to keep in a tank. If it goes walkabout when you’re not looking, then you will find a dead octopus on the floor the next morning, or behind the couch in two years.
6. It might eat your other pets. Crabs, clams and sometimes snails are not safe from the voracious appetite of a cephalopod. Often fish will most likely either eat your cephalopod or be eaten by your cephalopods.
7. They don’t live very long, most species only about a year. By the time you get your tropical cephalopod, it may be an adult near the end of its live span. You’ll be lucky to keep it alive for a few months.
Even experienced ceph keepers with mature tanks should think long and hard before obtaining these species. Their needs are resource intensive, specific, and not yet fully understood. Perhaps more importantly, the size and health of their wild populations is unknown.Even the sharing of information, photos and video of these animals can be controversial. Some fear that detailed information and attractive photos may encourage inexperienced saltwater aquarists to obtain specimens. Personally, I believe that knowledge should be freely available. I also believe that the admiration of a species can be of benefit to its preservation in the wild rather than its detriment. Furthermore, it is my hope that the information on the site will empower aquarists to make sound, rational decisions regarding the advisability of keeping these very difficult animals.
With permission, this list is based heavily on (in fact, some of it outright copied from) a similar list by Christine L. Huffard, Ph.D.
In stark contrast to the beautiful many-colored coral reefs of the Philippines, muck diving is a lot like being on the moon. You float over seemingly endless plains of desolate grey substrate. The major difference is the life; here in the ‘center of the center of marine biodiversity’ the silty muck is packed with animals. Tube anemones with commensal shrimp using their tentacles for protection dot the landscape. As you swim over the silty substrate, flatfish that were perfectly camouflaged in plain sight become visible only when spurred into motion by your passing. Feather Stars move their arms in slow motion, revealing commensal shrimp and squat lobsters hiding amongst the ‘feathers’. Venomous predators like Lionfish, Stonefish and Seagoblins hide in the muck looking for an easy meal. Ambush predators like the Stargazer lie mostly buried in the silt, just their skeletal face showing as they wait for an unlucky fish to swim by.
One of the animals that we have been looking forward to collecting for display at the Steinhart Aquarium during the Expedition is Amphioctopus marginatus, the Coconut Octopus. This is a little octopus, with a maximum 3 inch mantle and 12 inch arm span. It is plentiful in the Philippines, personable, tenacious, and has a habit of using found objects as temporary homes. Clay pots, bottles, tin cans and clam shells are all used as mobile homes for these octopus, complete with doors to close themselves in tightly and safely. They also will defend their homes, batting away anything that comes too close; even pushing a probing finger away with surprising strength. Sometimes they extend their arms and crawl around in the muck with their temporary home on their back, as if they are transforming into snails. All of this behavior should add up to a fantastic exhibit in the Steinhart Aquarium. Two Coconut Octopus have already arrived safely back at the Academy, and we look forward to putting them, and other animals collected on the trip, on display in the near future.
The Sepia latimanus at the California Academy of Sciences are now three months old, and they are growing fast. I was on a two week vacation and the doubled in size. They are also starting to show interactivity that the species is known for in the wild, and they very much know when they are about to be fed. I still haven’t seen the colors pulsing along the arms when hunting that I mentioned in a previous blog post, but we are seeing much more adult coloration along with amazing ‘light shows’ along their skin. I had time to sit and watch them for about 30 minutes after a feed and noticed that when they are done eating they all tend to stretch out their feeding tentacles – I was able to catch it and its the last clip on the video.
I am fortunate enough to be heading to the Philippines this month as part of the Hearst Expedition (http://www.calacademy.org/science/hearst/ ) to collect coral and cephalopods for display at work and very much hope to get some footage of S. latimanus in the wild.
When you receive a new saltwater animal you don’t want to just dump it into its new home. You want to give it time to get used to any water parameters that may be different from the water in the bag and the water in the tank.The basic idea of acclimation is that you slowly adjust the water in the shipping bag of the animal until it matches the water chemistry of your tank giving the new animal time to adapt to the new water chemistry before release into its new home. Makes complete sense, however, some ‘old aquarists tales’ have entrenched themselves in the e literature and subconscious of aquarists and I think that these ideas are at best a waste of time and at worse detrimental to the health of the animal. Below, I hope to outline reasonable acclimation procedures and present reasons why some of the ‘acclimation myths’ should be abandoned.There are many ways to go about acclimating new animals to your aquarium. Here is my rundown on the basics for a new animal that looks healthy in a bag of relatively clear water.
- Float the shipping bag in the new aquarium or sump to get the water in the bag to match the temperature of the tank (if the new animal is a fish or coral please use a quaranteen system to avoid introducing parasites to the show tank, but for cephs and other inverts this seems not to be an issue). . This should take no more than 10 or 15 minutes.
- Remove the bag from the tank and either decant the animal into a bucket (making sure to put something under one side of the bucket to tilt the bucket so the water is deep enough to keep the animal comfortable) or open the bag and clip it to the side of the inside of the bucket. If decanting you will be doing the acclimation in the bucket, if clipping you will be doing the acclimation in the bag. Either way, the goal is to make sure none of the bag water makes it into your tank because it could be ‘infected’ with parasites, but more probably its nasty from having an animal sit in it for 24+ hours.
- Begin adding tank water to the bag or bucket. This can be accomplished with a cup, or you can siphon water from the tank with an airline hose equipped with a valve or tied in a couple of knots to control the speed at which water is added. General rates of tank water addition are 1/2 cup every 3-5 minutes, or if dripping, 1-3 drops per second. If using a clipped bag you are looking to have extra water overflow into the bucket over time. This process should take 30 minutes to an hour, then move the animal to its new tank.
It should be glaringly obvious that there was no water testing mentioned in the above procedure. This is because, really, once you receive the animal you’ll have to do something with it regardless of the availability of water testing and the above procedure is pretty comprehensive. That doesn’t mean they can’t be useful. Mostly, we are concerned with salinity, pH and temperature so testing those parameters to determine when the tank water and the water the animal is in match can reduce the acclimation time. You don’t want to adjust any of these paramaters too quickly, but you also don’t want to dawdle. It seems that there isn’t much to be done about most other parameters, so testing doesn’t seem necessary except for the ones mentioned above if possible.The other parameter we care a lot about is ammonia, and it is important to note that it is linked with pH. Ammonia can be lethal to the animals, but its toxicity can be depressed by low pH. Over time in a closed shipping bag the pH of the water lowers which is great because the ammonia generated by the biological processes going on in the bag is rendered less toxic than it otherwise might be. However, once you open the bag and let fresh air in, the pH begins to rise and the ammonia becomes more toxic. This is why I suggest temperature acclimating while the bag is still sealed.If the water is nasty when the shipment arrives, if you test and find that ammonia is high, I would ignore most if not all of the acclimation procedure and get the animal out of the toxic soup immediately. Sure the other parameters may be off, but you have to get the animal out of the toxic water. Its a risk, but I feel its one worth talking because you know the bad water in the bag is killing the animal.All of the above can, of course, be modified based on your saltwater common sense and experience. You have to trust you, and no recipe can replace your developed saltwater thumb.The mythsThe biggest persistent myth I see is ‘the longer the acclimation the better’ which has resulted in people going through the procedure for 2-8 hours (in at least once case – over night!). The idea that the animals we are dealing with are fragile is true to some extent, but they are also pretty robust within reason and can deal with reasonable changes in environment. A super long acclimation just isn’t necessary and can be detrimental – ammonia levels can rise, temperature in the acclimating vessel can drop, and the animal can be stressed. Longer is not necessarily better, so either test to make decisions or be reasonable.The other myth I see happening with some frequency is bubbling air into the shipping bag. Sure it seems to make sense – the animal has been in a bag for a long time and the oxygen must be depleted so give it some. However, as we have seen above, this is the exact opposite of what you want to do because the fresh air will increase the pH of the water and will raise the toxicity of any ammonia that surely is in the water.I hope this is helpful, and as always, please let me know if anything is missing or if there are any questions.Finally, here is a link to one of my favorite online vendors acclimation instructions.http://www.liveaquaria.com/PIC/article.cfm?aid=157Scridb filter
Several people have recently asked how I ship cephs, so I thought I would write up what I do and stick it on the blog for posterity. I am hoping to ship some cephs in the next few weeks and if I do, I will try to update this post with photos.
Mostly I ship eggs and hatchling Sepia bandensis, but have used the procedure for juveniles, adults as well as octopus of various sizes – everything is just scaled up. Basically, you stick the ceph in a plastic bag with water and oxygen and seal it with a rubber band. Then you stick the plastic bag in an insulated shipping box and over night it to the person you are shipping the animals to. Details below. Remember describing simple things seems to make them seem more complicated than the really are, so don’t get overwhelmed by the detail!
You are also going to need heat packs if the weather is cold or ice packs if the weather is really hot (jump online and check the weather at the departure city and the arrival city before you ship). Use 40 hour heat packs because of the insurance they give you in case the shipment is delayed a day. I like the uni heat available here http://www.amazon.com/40-Hour-Dispos…/dp/B0043XHZGC or maybe from your LFS. Any kind of ice pack will do.
Figure out how many plastic bags you are going to be shipping and of what size. This will determine what size shipping container you are going to need. I have put up to 4 hatchlings in a single 6 inch bag but this often is dependent on the size of the shipping container – if you have a larger container, you need to fill space with more bags, but if you have a smaller container you need to maximize the space you have.
Plastic bags and rubberbands to seal the bags are most easily obtained from a friendly LFS. Get enough to triple layer each bag of water to better ensure the any small leak from a ceph bite or other abrasion is not catastrophic. For hatchlings and eggs I use either small ‘frag’ bags or smal 6 inch fish bags, and if you can get the thicker bags over the thinner, the probability of leaks goes even further down.
You’ll needs some kind of insulated shipping container the size you are going to need. These usually consist of a styrofoam ‘inner’ box and a cardboard ‘outer’ box. You can usually get one from your LFS, though getting the size you want may be difficult, especially if you are shipping only one or two small hatchlings. Some people have used small ice chests with fine results, or made their own by cutting down styrofoam to fit in a smaller cardboard box.
I also put a small piece of macro algae in with the animals so they have something to hold onto during shipping.
The address and phone number of who the animals are being shipped to (its never fun to fill out shipping paperwork only to find you don’t have all the information you need.
Determine when is the latest you can drop off the package at the shipping company, and try to pack and drop off the animals as close to that time as possible. The less time the animals spend in shipping the better. Also make sure you spring for morning deliver if possible, again, the less time in shipping the better.
Oxygen – I think its important, but some have shipped without it. I always use it. Your friendly LFS comes in handy here, and they will often let you use their oxygen if you have a good relationship with them. I always offer to pay them for any supplies they help me with, but have never actually been charged.
Fill the first bag with about 40% of tank water. Then add the macro algae if available, and then the ceph(s). Add oxygen to the bag, but don’t overfill because you want the bag to have a little bit of play to expand during time on the airplane with lower atmospheric pressure (most commercial planes are pressurized to 8000 feet). Twist the bag closed making a ‘stem’ that can be folded over itself for an even better seal. Seal the bag with a rubberband or two, making sure that the rubber band has been wrapped many times around the bag making a really tight seal. There is an art to rubber banding these bags, as well as several methods, so if you haven’t ever done it before practice and/or get someone experienced to help. Some LFS may even have a banding machine which crimps a small piece of metal around the ‘stem’ of the bag for an excellant seal.
Place the rubber banded side of the bag in the bottom of the next bag and then rubber band the second bag. This will eliminate any corners a small ceph may get trapped in. While flipping the bag, cuttlefish may ‘hang on’ to the plastic of the bag being exposed to air. No worries, be patient and wait for the animal to let go before proceeding. Seal the second bag with a rubber band. Repeat this step one last time for triple bagged goodness.
Place the animal packed bags into the shipping container and fill any extra space with packing peanuts, more rubber banded bags or any other soft material. The goal is to keep the bag from moving around during transport. Leave space above the bags for heat packs or ice packs.
If using an ice pack place it in a plastic bag and put some newspaper between it and the bags containing animals – direct contact can cause localized temperature changes. If using a heat pack, open the package it came in and shake the heat pack to activate it. Wrap it in newspaper and tap it to the top of the inside of the lid of the styrofoam ‘inner’ box. Heat packs stop working if they get wet, but they need oxygen to work, so don’t put them inside plastic bags.
Put the lid on the styrofoam ‘inner’ and seal lightly with tape. Then put the styrofoam box into the cardboard outer and seal that with packing tape.
Take the packed box to the shipping company, fill out the paperwork, give them money for shipping and have a nice dinner. Keep the tracking number handy so you can obsess over where the package is all night long.
Odds and ends
- Ship to arrive the next business morning.
- Never ship on a Thursday or Friday. Saturday deliveries are notorious for going wrong and if they do, the animals will sit until monday, which is too long. If you ship on a Thursday for Friday delivery and something goes wrong, you can end up with the aforementioned Saturday problems.
- May shippers will deliver to one of their strip mall stores and hold the package for pickup. The advantage here is that no one needs to be home to sign for the package. FedEx uses Kinko’s and UPS has their own stores.
Let me know if there are any questions or if something is unclear and I’ll update the post as needed. I hope this is helpful.
Is been 10 days since the O. vulgaris eggs have hatched. The paralarvae were divided into three tanks, 2 pseudo kreisels (one with a light barrier, one without) and into the octopus display tank with just air bubbles for water motion. The female is still alive and tending several stalks of eggs that failed to hatch. Interestingly, the best paralarve surrival has been in the display tank – the complete opposite of what I expected. It could be that since this tank was long established that the paralarvae had better food choices, or it could be that the flow in the pseudo kreisel made the paralarvae work very hard, or it could be something else entirely. The hatchlings in the pseudo kriesel that were exposed to 24 hours of light are doing much better over all than the ones kept in the dark.
On the cuttle front, Sepia latimanus are keeping most of my attention. These are a large cuttlefish (reported to get to 50cm and 10kg!) and working with them is a huge perk that comes with working at a public aquarium. I have seen these cuttles in Indo, Oz and PNG and they are amazing, generally interactive and interested in your hand if you point your fingers down making your hand resemble the head of a cuttlefish. Whey they are small, it appears they mimic mangrove leaves to avoid predation. They are often referred to as the ‘broadclub cuttlefish’ because of an interesting behavior. I have my own video of it buried somewhere, but here is a great clip from NOVA’s ‘Kings of Camouflage’
What I didn’t know was that they did the same behavior, minus the lightshow, right out of the egg. Here is the video from a previous blog showing what I mean.
The 20 eggs we have have almost all hatched and I have started to see the color changing abilities start to ramp up. I hope to have more video next week as the little cuttles get bigger and I am less scared of losing them.
- Caribbean Octopus ‘vulgaris’ (there are several Octopus that use the species name vulgaris which is why its in quotes)
- Roughly 3 weeks between eggs being laid and eggs hatching.
- Hatching occurred at 9 am.
- When I turned off the flow to better witness the hatching, the female octopus quickly left her bottle den, agitated the eggs presumably to help the hatch, and is now sadly protecting the space where the eggs were.
- The female many hatchlings will be on display at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences until they can no longer be displayed.
- The hatchlings are 1-2 mm in length.
- There are 1000′s of them.
- The hatchings are in a Kreisel tank and being offered 24 hour Artemia, which the literature suggests is the correct size to be eaten by the little octos, along with rotifers which are smaller to cover all the bases we can reasonably cover.
- A previous batch of hatchlings from my home had individual paralarvae survive until day 9
- The Caribbean Octopus ‘vulgaris’ seems to be a smaller species than its larger Mediterranean Octopus vulgaris cousins
Some pics -
Display, Husbandry and Breeding of Dwarf Cuttle, Sepia bandensis, at the California Academy of Sciences
Richard Ross, Aquatic Biologist, Steinhart Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences,
55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA, 94118 USA
Cuttles seem to always be on the want list for public aquarium displays; however, the species generally available, Sepia officinalis and Sepia pharaonis, require large exhibits which can be a major commitment in both husbandry and cost. It can also be difficult to justify the commitment of show space and resources to such short-lived animals (the life span of most cuttles is typically between 1 and 2 years). However, the dwarf cuttle, Sepia bandensis, is a species that can be housed in a much smaller exhibit than its larger cousins making it an attractive first step into public cuttle displays. Sepia bandensis perform all the exciting and interesting behaviors that make cuttles popular, and can even mate and lay eggs while on display. Even better, S. bandensis are not prone to damaging themselves by jetting into the sides of aquaria. At the California Academy of Sciences, we have been displaying S. bandensis for almost a year, the animals have successfully bred on display and we are well into raising our second generation.
Procurement of animals, hatching of wild eggs, and housing of hatchlings
Sepia bandensis eggs are commonly available twice a year, around March and October, from marine wholesalers. In April 2009, the Aquarium received 3 egg clusters of approximately 20 eggs each, from Quality Marine in Los Angeles. The eggs were housed in a 5 gallon critter keeper sitting in a weir box of one of our back of house coral grow out systems. Water quality was coral compatible; temp 26C (78F), salinity 33-35 ppt, pH 8-8.4, calcium 380-400 ppm, alkalinity 7-9 dKH, ammonia 0, nitrate 0-10 ppm (NO3), PO4 0.05 ppm or below.
Water was supplied to the critter keeper by a Maxi Jet 1200 power head in the sump of the system, with the flow rate controlled by a ball valve. The water gravity drained through the slotted lid into the weir box. There was enough flow to gently keep the eggs ‘swaying’ and there were several cupfuls of fine sand on the bottom. By the end of April roughly 50 of the eggs had hatched and the hatchlings were kept as a group in the critter keeper. At this point the water flow was increased in order to keep any food items moving because cuttles hunt moving prey. Traditionally, it seems that hatchling cuttles have been kept in low flow environments, but it seems they do very well in higher flow captive environments as well. Since the hatchlings spend most of their time on the substrate, there was never had a problem with animals getting trapped against the lid as the water overflowed back into the system weir box.
The biggest challenge raising S. bandensis from eggs is feeding the hatchlings. The challenge is twofold – appropriately sized food and getting enough of it. As the hatchlings grow, the size of the prey item offered needs to increase, and getting enough of any appropriate prey items can be costly. The Aquarium was able to supplement purchased food items with locally caught amphipods, locally caught freshwater mysids, and when the cuttles were larger, locally caught shore crabs of various species. It is also possible to wean juvenile cuttles onto thawed frozen foods, but this should be supplementary to live foods – more on this later.
Two quick notes on feeding hatchling S. bandensis: 1) Sometimes, hatchlings don’t appear to eat for the first week or so after hatching. It may be the case that they are actually not eating and may still be feeding on the remnants of their yolk sack; it may be that they are eating after lights out; or they may be eating small amphipods or copepods already present in the aquarium. In any event, they seem to come out of it and begin eating voraciously. 2) Enough people have anecdotally tried and failed to raise hatchling S. bandensis on enriched Artemia that I don’t think anyone need to try it again (although a study might be informative).
For the first few weeks after hatching, the hatchlings were fed twice a day with live mysids from Aquatic Biosystems and Aquatic Indictors. Mysid shrimp were gut loaded with newly hatched Artemia . Live mysids seem to be a perfect food because they are easily caught by the hatchling cuttles. After several weeks, amphipods were introduced into the diet. There seems to be a learning curve to the hunting ability of hatchling S. bandensis; amphipods are strong and when introduced too early in S. bandensis development, they are able to easily escape from the hungry cuttles possibly causing damage.
Around week 4, locally collected fresh water mysids were introduced into the diet, which the cuttles were able to catch and consume before the shock of being placed into saltwater stunned them into no longer moving.
Around week 6 we began to introduce thawed and rinsed frozen Piscine Energetics (PE) mysids into the diet. Initially, these were placed into the aquarium along with live mysids. Because of the decent flow rate, the cuttles would strike at the PE mysids as they was blown around in the water column. Within a week, one of the daily feedings became solely thawed PE mysids.
Around week 8, our hatchlings were between 1.2 cm (½ inch) and 2.5 cm (1 inch) in mantle length, and larger foods became necessary both from a nutritional and cost perspective. Fresh water ghost shrimp were available from a local wholesaler, however, keeping these alive long term became challenging. Marine ‘janitors’, Palamontes vulgaris, from http://livebrineshrimp.com/ were purchased and easily housed long term in a 20 gallon tank with an air driven sponge filter. These shrimp were approximately the same length as the cuttles and were readily consumed.
Feeding adolescents and adults
Once the S. bandensis were larger than 2.5 cm (1 inch long), saltwater grass shrimp, Cragnon spp. were purchased from a local bait shop and introduced into the diet. The Cragnon were kept in an auxiliary aquarium on a coldwater system kept at 11C (52F). Purchases of Cragnon include shrimp of different sizes, so it is easy to pick out the best size for the S. bandensis – even though at this size the cuttles can easily take prey larger than themselves. From time to time, they are also fed thawed silversides for variety, and have also been fed live saltwater mollies.
Feeding can be done by hand – the adults swim right to the surface at feeding and will eagerly take live or thawed frozen shrimp out of from your fingers, sometimes squirting you in the face with water from their funnels in the process. A feeding stick (a piece of rigid tubing with a 7.5 cm (3 inch) lengths of 80 pound test fishing line glued to it) can also be used to make sure that individual animals are getting food. For enrichment, the cuttlefish get appropriately sized live crabs or live shrimp introduced quietly into the tank to allow the cuttles to stumble upon them and hunt them at their leisure.
The display tank
When the hatchlings were around twelve weeks old they were ready to be put on display. A tank of approximately 450 L (120 gallons US) with dimensions of 122 cm x 61 cm x 61 cm (48”x24”x24”) that shared a common sump with three other tanks containing fish, inverts and corals was prepared for the cuttles by adding a mix of substrates, river rock, live rock, four large Sarcophyton sp., nine Acanthophyllia deshayesiana, and three Protoreastor sp. sea stars for clean up of uneaten cuttle food. Two 175 Watt MH pendants containing 20,000K bulbs were added to support the needs of the corals. A rigid airline tube bubbles air near the surface, and produces aesthetically pleasing glitter lines. The total system volume is approximately 1,165 L (300 gallons US). Filtration includes various filter socks on the tank returns, a small fluidized reactor containing granular ferric oxide media and activated carbon, and an ASM G4+ protein skimmer. A remote deep sand bed for natural nitrate reduction is planned for the near future. As a result, water quality is maintained near the parameters described above.
Initially, thirty juvenile S. bandensis, approximately 2.5 cm (1 inch) in mantle length, were introduced to the display. Since the animals were so small, and so good at camouflage, the idea was to saturate the exhibit with cuttles to make it easier for guests to see them. A graphic of a small cuttle on the substrate was also added to give the guests an idea of what to look for. The plan was to remove animals from the display as they got bigger and began to show sexual characteristics and possible aggression. It seems cuttles can tell the sex of other cuttles on sight, but aquarists can only tell the difference through dominance postures (which aren’t always accurate) or by directly observing mating.
Over the next several months, that strategy worked out well. The S. bandensis ate and grew and the males began to show themselves by facing of with each other, stretching and widening their bodies while darkening their patterns in a presumed effort to assert sexual dominance. There were a few losses, noticeable by the discovery of cuttlebones with beak bites missing from them: looking like a surfboard after a shark attack. It is unclear if the losses were due to natural aggression or cannibalism resulting from inadequate quantities of food or frequency of feedings.
As the animals matured, some were removed from the display to holding tanks behind the scenes, leaving a population of six S. bandensis on display: four females, one large male and one smaller male. Since the males are generally the aggressors in this species, the larger/smaller relationship was settled on in order to curtail dominance fighting.
Like other cuttles, S. bandensis mate ‘fact to face’, intertwining arms for several minutes. Mating was observed in the animals on display at around sixteen weeks. Interestingly enough, while the larger male would be facing off with his reflection in the acrylic, the smaller male would be mating. As soon as the larger male noticed, the smaller male would stop, or be prevented from mating by the larger male.
Even though mating had been witnessed for approximately four weeks, eggs weren’t discovered in the exhibit until the S. bandensis were about twenty weeks old. Eggs were laid one at a time, with a bit of ink incorporated into the ‘skin’ of the egg. Each egg took between two and five minutes to be laid and placed into the egg cluster, which is often attached to a rock in the exhibit. Clusters can be built up over several days and can range in size from a few eggs to 40 or 50 eggs. There does seem to be some post-laying parental interest in the eggs, with both the female and dominant male jetting water over the eggs from time to time for a few days after laying. It is unclear if clusters are laid by only one female at a time, or if several females can build clusters at the same time.
As the eggs developed and swelled they were moved off display and back into the critter keeper behind the scenes where we raised the parents. The eggs hatched in approximately one month.
Before working at the Steinhart Aquarium the author had bred S. bandensis several times in his home cephalopod breeding system. Although many eggs were laid the hatch rate was very low. In contrast, the amount of eggs laid at the Steinhart Aquarium was surprising, as was the number of eggs that hatched. Between August and November, approximately 600 eggs were laid on display, with the majority of them being viable. Over 300 eggs and hatchlings have been sent to other institutions. Egg laying didn’t end in December, but it did slow down noticeably. It will be interesting to see if fecundity drops off as the breeding group gets older. The author believes much of this breeding success is attributable to the amount of live food always available at the Steinhart Aquarium. The author’s home setup, didn’t allow for the housing of Cragnon spp., so there were frozen and fed out as needed. However, at the Aquarium frozen food was only kept as an emergency backup, and feed live food was fed twice a day instead. Further study is needed to determine the relationship between fresh and frozen food on fecundity of S. bandensis.
Preparing for the next group
With the success of the S. bandensis breeding on display, we replaced the critter keeper in back of house with a cube system plumbed into the same coral grow out system. There are now three cubes 30 cm x 25 cm x 25 cm (12”x10”x10”), fed by the same Maxijet 1200 power head, and gravity draining into the same sump that were used before. At the time of writing there are approximately thirty three-month-old cuttles, approximately eighty one-month-old cuttles along with several clutches of eggs both behind the scenes and on display. There are also several three-month-old S. bandensis that were purchased as eggs in September for genetic diversity when it appeared we would be successful with our breeding program.
The refined group of S. bandensis on display has been remarkably stable with very little fighting over time.
The amount of water flow in the display is fast enough for the Sarcophyton to visibly sway back and forth. S. bandensis don’t seem to care if the flow is fast or slow, and don’t seem to be working very hard to stay in position in the areas of higher flow.
The display of S. bandensis has been very successful from a husbandry standpoint and a guest experience standpoint – the cuttles are very popular with both docents and guests. Feeding time is especially popular!
We look forward to breeding more of these animals and sharing both display and breeding stock with other institutions.
The author would like to thank:
Matt Wandell, J. Charles Delbeek, Seth Wolters, Nancy Levine, April Devitt and Pam Montbach for helping to feed and care for these animals. Bart Shepherd for approving and supporting the display and breeding program of dwarf cuttlefish. J. Charles Delbeek, Bart Shepherd, Chris Andrews and Laura Kormos for their input on this article. Chris Maupin and Dr. James Wood for their help when beginning to keep and breed S. bandensis, and all of the members of www.TONMO.com for their help and support over the years.
Ross, R. “Sepia bandensis; Husbandry and breeding.” Tropical Fish Hobbyist, August 2009: (pp102-106)
Ross, R. “Keeping and breeding the dwarf cuttlefish Sepia bandensis.” Advanced Aquarist, September 2005: http://www.advancedaquarist.com/2005/9/aafeature. Republished on TheCephalopodPage May 2007: http://thecephalopodpage.org/Sepiabandensis.php.
From Advanced Aquarist Online and Reef Life Magazine
In recent years there has been much public interest in the so-called ‘zebra’ octopuses - Wunderpus photogenicus and Thaumoctopus mimicus. And with good reason, as these animals can be stunning in coloration, patterning and displays. As their common moniker implies, these octopus can display distinctive black and white stripes over their mantle and arms. But there is another ‘zebra’ octopus that is rarely seen which may turn out to be even more fascinating than its better known cousins – the pygmy octopusOctopus chierchiae.
Nuts and bolts
Octopus chierchiae is a striking, small octopus. The skin of the adult is usually a creamy color with dark bands bordered by white all over the body and arms. At times, the same individual bands can fade so the whole animal appears creamy with creamy stripes. At other times, that same specimen may become translucent, revealing the branchial, or gill, hearts beating in the animal’s pointed mantle. Finally, that same specimen might a uniform, dark brown. The skin itself alternates between a smooth and a bumpy texture, and there are star shaped papillae around each eye as well as prominent papillae towards the tip of the mantle.
Octopus chierchiae occurs along the pacific coast of Panama and Nicaragua, living in the low inter-tidal zone where they may be periodically exposed to air and may survive in water that collects in rock cavities between tides. Being from this zone, it may be that this species is tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and salinities. Although they have been described in one of the few scientific papers about them as ‘common’, they may not be, or they may simply only be common at certain times of year. We simply don’t know because the science hasn’t been done. One expedition to collect these animals for research was unable to obtain a single specimen. If these octopuses are indeed not common, negative impact on wild populations due to collection is a very real possibility, as these animals are recognizable, andeasy to collect due to the environment they live in.
The lifespan of Octopus chierchiae is currently unknown, but thought to be roughly a year. The longest lived wild caught animal was kept alive for approximately 8 months.
One of the most astonishing features of this species is the female’s ability to lay multiple clutches of eggs over its lifetime. The reproductive strategy for most octopuses is semelparous, laying many small eggs at once and then dying. The small eggs almost always hatch as planktonic paralarvae and are essentially impossible to raise in captivity (although there has recently been some small success in that area). Octopus chierchiaehowever, is iteroparous, and it lays several, smaller clutches of eggs before dying. What makes Octopus chierchiae even more attractive from a breeding standpoint is that the eggs are large, and the hatchlings emerge essentially as miniature adults which makes raising the hatchlings possible in captive environments.
Females are larger than males, reaching a dorsal mantle length of 25mm and 18 mm respectively. The males have a hectocotylus, or grove, on the third right hand arm when the animal is viewed from above that is used to pass sperm packets to the female. It also appears that the males have ‘fringing’ along the tips of the arms that is absent in females.
It is also possible these animals are toxic in some way – their striking coloring and patterning seems very much like warning to would be predators. However, whether the bite is toxic or the flesh is toxic is a question that will have to wait for further research.
Octopus chierchiae was first briefly described by G Jatta in 1889. Most of what we know about their lifecycle and behavior comes from a paper written in 1984 by Arcadio F. Rodaniche, along with some first hand observations by cephalopod researcher Dr Roy Caldwell. In the early 1970’s Dr. Caldwell collected severalOctopuschierchiae while doing stomatopod research in Panama, and treated them as a curiosity. This experience was partly responsible for Dr. Caldwell becoming interested in studying pygmy octopuses. It was he who later returned to Panama to collect Octopus chierchiae and was unable to find a single specimen.
Since then, Dr Caldwell has obtained specimens of Octopus chierchiae sporadically, and they have leaked into the pet trade from time to time. The issue with getting them is there are few marine ornamental collectors in that part of South America, and they don’t collect and ship in a consistent manner for any animals, never mind a ‘specialty’ animal like a cephalopod. Dr. Caldwell wrote about them once onwww.TONMO.com (the online source for all things ceph related), but since they were so rare in the trade and in research, I never imagined I would be able to work with them.
As luck would have it…
In early April 2008, I received an email from a supplier asking if I was interested in some zebra octopus they had received from Indonesia. One was a Wunderpus, but the other was clearly something different. It looked like Octopus chierchiae. Later discussion revealed that the specimen did not come from Indonesia, but rather arrived as a stow away in a gastropod shell in a shipment from Nicaragua. I asked for the animal to be shipped to me and went about modifying part of my cuttle system into an octopus system in anticipation of its arrival.
Octopus are escape artists, inter-tidal octopus like Octopus chierchiae even more so because they are used to crawling around in areas without much water. They can also be cannibalistic, so keeping them separate is imperative. Luckily, the modifications were fast and straightforward because the system was mature, with Carib-Sea ‘mineral mud’ substrate. All that was needed was some ‘octo proofing’ of part of my cuttle breeding system. The cuttle system was a cube system with the cubes divided by slotted acrylic that an octopus could easily fit though, so I bought some small pored commercially-available aquarium divider material, cut it to size and super glued it in place over the slots while the tank was still full of water. Even though I didn’t think it would be possible for the octopus to escape through the return plumbed into each cube, I also covered the return… the chance simply wasn’t worth taking. I also purchased some large glass tiles to place over each cube and the system was ready to go.
The octopus arrived, was acclimated and introduced into its new home. Its mantle was about 15 mm across, and all of its arms were intact and looked healthy.
I wanted some kind of den or hiding place for the octopus, but wanted to be able to easily check on the animal’s health – and to be sure it hadn’t escaped or died. Some dwarf octopus live in gastropod shells, but such dens would have made it difficult to keep track of the animals because they could easily disappear deep down into the spiral of the shell.. My initial offering, a piece of large vinyl tubing, was ignored, so I replaced it with large individual barnacle shells and the Octopus chierchiae quickly took up residence.
I offered live shore shrimp (Palaemontes v ulgaris) but they were ignored for the first few days, as were local San Francisco bay bait shrimp (Cragnon spp). I collected some local shore crabs (hemigrapsis spp), which were taken with gusto, although that might have been because the octopus were hungry rather than due to a preference for crabs. The crabs stopped struggling within seconds of being bitten which may point to possible toxicity of Octopus chierchiae.
Cephalopood researcher Dr Christine Huffard came byto take a look at the animal and confirm the identification. She alsodetermined that the animal was female. I immediately followed up with the initial supplier, as well as others, asking if they could get more specimens.. If we could get more, not only would we could learn more about them, but we could perhaps establish a breeding population which could benefit both research and hobbyists.
An online retailer had one Octopus chierchiae listed, which I quickly bought. He also told me that they had seen 4 more individuals at their supplier. I immediately sent them more money, but in a heartbreaking turn of events, it turned out that they had escaped into the wholesalers live rock holding tanks… never to be seen again. Fortuitously, when the second Octopus chierchiae arrived it turned out to be a male andDr Caldwell, Dr Huffard and I set up a date the next week to attempt to mate them
I’ll never forget that night, the three of us crowed around a 3 gallon tank, in the dark, with multiple still and video cameras ready to document the cephalopod pornography. When we put the male and female together, they copulated within minutes. The smaller male sized up the female and then quickly jumped on her, inserting his hectocotylized arm into her mantle. The mating lasted several minutes and the animals were then returned to their individual homes. It was like cephalopod Christmas morning.
Here be hatchlings
Two weeks later, a second male arrived, thanks to a donation by a generous and selfless hobbyist. Dr. Caldwell came over to mate the second male to the female. When I went to move the female to the photography tank I discovered a clutch of eggs in her barnacle den.
Over the next few days, she tipped her den opening down and would walk around her tank as if she were trying to de-evolve back into a snail. If disturbed, she would use her arms inside the barnacle and against the bottom of the tank to ‘suck’ the barnacle to the bottom of the tank. I gently tried to pull up the den to see what was going on inside, but stopped because it was going to take a great deal of effort to separate it from the tank and I didn’t want to risk damaging her or the eggs.
Over the next several weeks I eagerly awaited hatchlings. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the female would sneak an arm out from under the barnacle to take freshly killed shrimp; according to Rodaniche the females don’t eat during brooding. While waiting for the eggs to hatch, I prepared for hatchlings.
I built a water table to house individual octopus hatchling containers. I took small, clear plastic containers, cut a slot in their sides and glued netting from a commercially available net breeder over the slots. I drilled a hole in each lid and glued a piece of rigid tubing into the hole. I then attached airline tubing to a valved manifold fed by a small power head. I drilled a second hole in the top of each container for feeding. This set up was inexpensive, allowed me to add containers as necessary, allowed me to control the amount of water in each container, and gave me easy access and easy viewing to each container with minimal stress to the hatchling during feeding.
Finally the first hatchlings arrived. I discovered in them one morning, and found them to be an amazing orange color, very different from the adult coloration. They swam in the water column bouncing up and down like fishing bobbers. Over the next 20 days I discovered hatchlings in 1s and 2s, for a total of 23 hatchlings from the first clutch. I fed them small amphipods collected from the aquarium glass elsewhere in the system, and gave them black airline tubing to use as dens – which they ignored. About half of the hatchlings went to Dr. Caldwell’s lab, where they were kept in glass jars with netting over the mouth to prevent escape in a larger aquarium, and were given calcareous tube worm tubes as dens – which they immediately took to.
As the hatchlings grew they were given larger amphipods both cultured and collected from around the San Francisco Bay. As mentioned earlier, everyone knows that octopuses are amazing predators, but there is something phenomenal about watching a 5 mm long animal hunt, capture and eat a 7 mm long amphipod.
The extended Cephalopod community
For several years now, Octopus chierchiae have been www.TONMO.com’s most wanted octopus, so the obtaining of specimens and the successful breeding of these animals made for excitement among cephalopod enthusiasts. As it happened, a few more Octopus chierchiae had turned up across the country. Since broodstock is a traditional stumbling block to getting captive cephalopod breeding populations established, I asked all three of the people who had an Octopus chierchiae, to send them to me, letting them know that Dr. Caldwell and I would gladly pay for them. If our breeding project was successful, we would send them hatchlings as replacements. We were able to get two more males from generous hobbyists. There was one hobbyist that had a female and ended up with hatchlings, but wasn’t able to get them into the effort. This was unfortunate because we needed the genetic diversity. The hunt for more animals went on for months, but none were to be found and the South American supplier had ceased shipping.
Some Final Details
- Two of the hatchlings climbed up the side of their containers, and met a grisly, dried out death. Several more of the hatchlings were lost due to an unfortunate ammonia spike, while others were lost to unfortunate salinity drops. Others were lost for unknown reasons.
- The hatchling wet weight at 3 days was 22.3 mg, while at day 123, the wet weight was 330 mg.
- The female was mated to 3 males, resulting in 3 clutches laid and 46 discovered hatchlings (some may have undetected on hatching and escaped into the larger system).
- There were more male hatchlings than females. The longest lived male survived for 340 days, while the longest-lived female lasted 326 days. Both of these far exceed the lifespan of any wild-caught specimen on record.
- Any attempted sibling or oedipal matings resulted in no eggs being laid.
- We were not able to obtain any more specimens, so the effort ended after all the animals died.
Octopus chierchiae is an amazing little animal and is clearly worth further study. Every time I speak to a supplier I ask about getting more from South America, but a year and a half has passed without further specimens. It is my hope that someday we’ll succeed in establishing a viable breeding program, and in the process learn more about this fascinating little ‘zebra’ octopus.
References and Resources
- Boyle, PR and Rodhouse, P. 2005. Cephalopods: ecology and fisheries. Wiley-Blackwell, 452 pages
- Dunlop, C and King, N. 2008. Cephalopods: Octopuses and Cuttlefish for the Home Aquarium. TFH Publications. 269 pages
- Hanlon, RT and Messenger. 1996. Cephalopod Behaviour. Cambridge University Press. 232 pages
- Rodaniche AF (1984) Iteroparity in the Lesser Pacific Striped Octopus, Octopus chierchiae. (Jatta, 1889). Bull Mar Sci 35:99–104
- Caldwell, Roy. Private communication.
- Octopus chierchiae mating video: http://www.stickycricket.com/aquarium/movies/oc_movie.html
Metasepia pfefferi is an amazing species of flamboyant cuttlefish and I have recently had the opportunity to obtain multiple specimens of this species for the first time in 8 years. These flamboyant cuttlefish wasted little time getting on with mating, and with a little luck we’ll get to observe egg laying – and with a lot of luck egg hatching. I am incredibly excited about this video – you can see the males hectocotylus near the end of the vid! Currently, the Steinhart Aquarium has one Flamboyant on display and several more ‘off show’ for a breeding attempt. Before people rush out and try to obtain these guys, please remember that like all adult cuttles, they ship poorly. What does that actually mean? 80-100% DOA or DAA for animals that retail in the 300 to 600 dollar range. Furthermore, since they have a short lifespan (12 months or so) getting adults means that your time with them is going to be to short.
Metasepia are astonishing little animals found primarily in muck habitats. These vast, rolling underwater plains of settled silt and mud appear desolate at first glance, but are in fact populated by an unexpectedly large number of strange animals including frogfish, ghost pipefish and a stunning array of nudibranchs. Fitting right in with these odd neighbors, the Flamboyant Cuttle is normally a master of camouflage blending in completely while walking along the grey substrate. When startled, however, those previously subdued colors change to bright purples, reds, yellows and whites. The colors shine out in coruscating patterns along the animal’s body probably to indicate the animals toxicity. The idea of keeping the more exotic cephs has generated much discussion in cephalopod circles, mostly because the size and health of their wild populations is unknown (and, at least in areas collected the populations seem to suffer). Even the sharing of information, photos or video of these animals in captivity can be controversial as some fear that detailed information and attractive photos and video may encourage inexperienced saltwater aquarists to obtain specimens and encourage over-collection, perhaps impacting the ability of wild populations to recover.
Personally, I believe that the admiration of a species can be of benefit to its preservation in the wild rather than its detriment. My hope is that the open sharing of information empowers aquarists to make sound, rational decisions regarding the advisability of keeping and not keeping these animals. In other words, keeping Metasepia is not something that should be entered into on a whim and even experienced cephalopod keepers with mature tanks should think long and hard before trying to obtain this species. Their needs are resource intensive, expensive, and not yet fully understood, so at this point in our understanding of these animals getting one just because ’its cool’ seems to be a disservice to these incredible creatures. Hopefully, captive bred Flamboyants will be available, but until then enjoy the video.Scridb filter
From the oatmeal
I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that you think your mother, or perhaps mothers in general, are pretty goddamn awesome. They scrub things, cook pot roast, and produce shrieking little babies which grow up to be astronauts and prime ministers. When you got sucker-punched at recess, she was there for you. When you accidentally peed your pants on the first day of school, she wiped away the tears. When the cat ate your favorite hamster and then barfed it onto your favorite pair of pajamas, she was your shoulder to cry on. Mothers sacrifice their own happiness for the betterment of their offspring.
Like most universally liked things, however, there’s always a better underdog.
Enter the octopus.
Comparing moms to an octopus would be like pitting an army of savages against one well-oiled gatling gun sitting atop a hill. The mothers would charge the hill, hurling rocks and sticks; they’d roar righteous, compassionate battle cries of warriors who believe they are fighting for the betterment of humanity. They’d truly fight from the heart.
Meanwhile the gatling gun would rotate in a precise semicircle and mow them down like dogs.
Mothers love to complain about child birth. We’ve all heard it: “I went into labor and it lasted 36 hours!” or “When I farted out my last baby it hurt like a sonofabitch.” When an octopus mother gives birth, she blasts out nearly 200,000 babies and then hangs onto them within her tentacles. If food becomes low, she’ll scoop them up like nachos and eat a few thousand in order to survive. I bet your mom never carried a few hundred thousand infants in her arms and ate a few when she wanted a snack, now did she?
Some octopuses differ in size so greatly that the father will never grow to be be larger than an acorn, meanwhile the mother will mature to be the size of a human being (150 lbs or so). This disparity in size would be like marrying a woman who grows to be the size of a dump truck. Impressive, huh?
You bet your ass it is.
Furthermore, when an octopus mother finally sets her spawn free, she doesn’t hang around and become a mommy blogger who bitches all day about nothing. Instead, she’ll wander off in her weakened state and get devoured by a large predator. The idea here being that once you perpetuate your own genes, you don’t have fuckall left to do so you should just let yourself become food for the rest of the animal kingdom. This is a sentiment I fully endorse, and if our moms really wanted to impress us they’d take to the hills and fight it out with mountain lions after our first birthday.
An octopus doesn’t sit around like an undersea lawn ornament, lazily watching repeats of Maury Povich or “nesting.” Octopuses are clever as hell and will entertain themselves by tormenting other sea creatures. This includes juggling crabs, throwing objects, and smashing things. One particularly bored octopus in a German aquarium was reported to squirt water out of his tank at an overhead lamp. The burnout caused a short-circuit throughout the entire aquarium which disrupted the pumps and endangered the lives of all the other animals. Other octopuses have been found to use old coconut shells to build little houses for themselves on the ocean floor, so while the moms of today are busy cleaning vomit off the seats of cheap minivans, octopuses are setting up undersea battle stations so they can one day win the war against all the other useless assclowns floating around in the ocean.
Unlike fish, which are dumb as shit, octopuses are insanely smart. They have both short and long-term memory, and in lab experiments they can be taught to differentiate shapes and patterns. They have also been seen to observe other octopuses and learn from their behavior. So theoretically, if a dolphin bum-rushed an octopus he’d not only remember it, he’d stalk the dolphin and take a giant octo-dump in his mouth while he slept.
Would your mother ever exact revenge on a dolphin by crapping in its gaping, blue jaws?
I didn’t think so.
Suppose you asked your mom to take down a caribou. Were she an octopus, she’d become nearly invisible and slide up next to it. Once she was within a few feet of it, she’d spray out a massive cloud of black ink. This ink would create a screen that she could conceal herself behind, and once close, she’d blast herself forward and encompass the caribou in a death grip, her motion and strength propelled by two of the three hearts used to pump blood in her body. Upon gripping the caribou, her arms would have taste buds so she would actually know the flavor of the caribou long before it reached her mouth. These arms would also deliver a paralyzing venom which would render the caribou unable to move but fully aware of its surroundings. Once paralyzed, she’d use her radula, which is sort of like a tongue equipped with miniature teeth, to drill into the caribou and suck out all the delicious innards.
If you’re an undersea predator, you’d be well advised not to fuck with an octopus. First of all, they’re very difficult to spot, especially the ones capable of changing their skin color to camouflage themselves. They can not only change the color of their skin, but the texture as well; they have tiny muscles which can constrict to appear rough like a piece of coral or pointy like seaweed. If spotted, they’ll spray a cloud of ink in order to screw up a predator’s sense of smell or temporarily confuse them while they make their getaway. They have no rigid skeleton, so their flexible bodies can squeeze through tiny spaces to evade capture. If caught, most octopus tentacles are venomous to predators, so even touching them can cause injury. There are also types of octopus which will tear off the tentacles of a Portuguese man-of-war (one of the most toxic, dangerous creatures on earth). Being immune to the deadly sting of the man-of-war, an octopus will then wield the stingers as weapons against other predators.
If, by chance, a predator actually manages to get hold of an octopus, the octopus is capable of letting a limb tear off in order to escape – a limb which will regenerate later on. If your mom could defend herself like an octopus, she’d evade being defeated by a mountain lion simply by letting him rip off her arms, at which point she’d flee into the forest and grow new ones.
If the “discard a body part” tactic doesn’t work, the octopus has a razor-sharp beak which it can bite down with. I find it fitting that the only rigid part of an octopus’ body is the part it uses to shank other sea creatures.
On one hand, we’ve got someone who blares the Hakuna Matata in the car and shops for breast pumps. On the other, we’ve got a murderous, smart creature capable of the most despicably awesome acts in the animal kingdom. It can become invisible, re-grow damaged limbs, shrink to impossible sizes, solve complex problems, blind predators, paralyze prey, and generally fuck with every other creature you saw in The Little Mermaid.
I’d say the victor is fairly obvious.Scridb filter
By Ryan Gripp
The California Academy of Sciences which Reef Builders’ own Richard Ross works for has been getting busy in the maternity ward. A local TV station (ABC7) interviewed the different programs that have had success, those of Asian horned frogs and cuttlefish (cuttlefish starts at around 1:48). In regards to the cuttlefish breeding project Rich said “Oh, they are just the coolest animals in the world, aren’t they? They are like little humming birds in the sea who look at you.” Yes Rich, we agree. It is interesting to point out that the work Rich is doing is the only cuttlefish breeding program in the United States, “about 350 cuttlefish have hatched so far. Both this and the frog breeding program have been so successful and the academy is now shipping babies to other aquariums and researchers around the country.” Way to go Rich!Scridb filter
From Mercury News
By Laurie Bouck
The 2- to 4-inch dwarf cuttlefish, native to the Philippines and the Indo-Pacific region, are biologically related to octopuses, squid, and even snails. Dwarf cuttlefish are “masters of camouflage,” said Ross. “They can change the color and texture of their skin at will,” even creating moving patterns on their skin. They are also excellent hunters, with eight arms, two feeding tentacles, a beak to eat and “a tongue like a cheese grater” that helps them break up food, Ross said. More »
first appeared in Tropical Fish Hobbyist (TFH) Magazine in 2009.
Wild collected adult Sepia bandensis ship poorly with high mortality rates and, since they are adults, they may only have months or weeks left to live when they finally arrive at your home. However, in the last few years, alternatives to wild caught adults have presented themselves. Wild caught eggs appear on the market with regularity, and our understanding about how to raise the eggs and hatchlings has advanced greatly. Even more exciting is the success people have had captive breeding Sepia bandensis, and captive bred eggs and hatchling cuttles are offered for sale by breeders with increasing regularity. The means that not only is nothing is taken from the wild, but the availability of Sepia bandensis is no longer dependant on the seasonal availability of wild animals. This article will cover the basics of keeping and breeding these amazing creatures.
Sepia bandensis are cephalopods, related to octopus, squid and nautilus. Sepia bandensis have 8 arms, two feeding tentacles, three hearts, a ring shaped brain, a cuttle bone that helps control buoyancy, a fin that girds their mantle for fine maneuvering, a funnel that gives them ‘jet’ propulsion, superb 360 degree vision (though it appears they are color blind), copper based blood and the ability to squirt ink. They mate readily at around 5 months old, and lay clusters of ink covered eggs that resemble clusters of grapes. When the hatchlings are born they are tiny, less than a ¼ inch long, but can grow to an inch long within two months, and to about 4 inches within 6 months.
An awful truth
Sepia bandensis only live about one year. What makes this short lifespan even worse is how many cephalopods die; they go into what is called senescence. In senescence, the cephalopod essentially wastes away; they become listless, their eyesight and coordination start to fail causing them to have difficulty hunting or even accepting food placed directly into their arms. Sometimes their arms and body will begin to rot in place. I have seen hermit crabs feeding of still living Sepia bandensis while the cuttlefish does nothing, showing no signs that they are even aware of what is happening. In the wild, cuttlefish going through senescence don’t last long, quickly being eaten by other animals. In captivity, however, with careful feeding by the aquarist, it is possible for such a cuttlefish to linger for months while slowly declining. At some point during this process, some cephalopod keepers choose to euthanize senescent animals rather than watch them suffer. The best way to intentionally end the life of a suffering cuttle is still up for debate, but the two most often used methods include freezing the animal in a cup of tank water, or using one of the commercially life ending chemicals produced by aquarium companies.
I bring this up because it is important to be ready for this aspect of keeping a cuttlefish, and to drive home the point that captive breeding of these animals is important. If you captive breed them, it seems to somehow make the short life of the animal feel less tragic and more meaningful.
The basic requirements for Sepia bandensis husbandry are roughly the same as for coral – clean stable water conditions that simulate natural salt water conditions. I suggest live rock for biological filtration with ammonia and nitrite levels of zero and nitrate levels as low as possible. Specific gravity should be near 34.5ppt, temperature around 78 degrees Fahrenheit, and pH should be between 8.0 and 8.5. A skimmer is a must, not only for the oxygen it puts into the water and the waste it skims out of the tank, but they also do a great job of removing any cephalopod ink from the water before it has a chance to do any damage to the animals. With the amount of waste these predators create from unconsumed food, adding a phosphate reactor with phosphate adsorbing media may also be a good idea. Finally, if nitrates become a problem, a sulfur denitrator or remote deep sand bed for natural nitrate reduction can be added.
A single Sepia bandensis can live well in a 30 gallon aquarium, and many of the ‘all in one’ aquariums on the market right can work very well as a cuttlefish tank. For two Sepia bandensis I don’t recommend anything smaller than 40 gallons, 3 Sepia bandensis have done well in a 55, and I have kept groups of 8 in 125 gallons. Groups of Sepia bandensis can be kept together as long as they are kept fed and they have enough space. Without enough space or food, the cuttlefish will fight and possibly damage or eat each other.
Sepia bandensis has no specific lighting requirements, and will thrive under simple fluorescent lights or more powerful metal halide lighting. Similarly, Sepia bandensis will thrive under different levels of water flow, but I suggest you err on the side of more flow rather than less.
The aquascaping for a cuttlefish tank is mostly up to the personal preference of the aquarist, as the cuttlefish will thrive in a wide variety of set ups. Some caves or overhangs for the cuttles to hide are good for the animals. Growing macro algae can also provide nice hiding places for the cuttles to hang out, as well as potentially up taking excess nutrients in the water. A inch or so of sand is also a nice addition to the tank as the cuttles will sometimes bury themselves in sand, but their digging may be detrimental to deeper sand beds.
Cuttlefish can be messy eaters, dropping uneaten food all over the tank, and it is important to get that food out before it begins to rot causing deteriorating water quality. Hermit crabs and snails are safe from predation by cuttlefish and can help with uneaten food. In my opinion, bristle worms make great tank janitors for cuttlefish because they breed readily, and quickly consume dropped food.
Fish as tank mates should be avoided. If we follow up most stories of cephalopods being kept successfully with fish, we find that the success only lasts a few months before the fish eats the cephalopod or the cephalopod eats the fish. Corals on the other hand, as long as they are not stinging, make great tank mates for cuttlefish. There is at least one Sepia bandensis breeder that has had great success breeding Sepia bandensis in a full blown reef tank with bright metal halide lighting and massive flow.
Sepia bandensis start off small and get larger quickly, which means their food needs and living space needs change as they grow. While its easy to say two Sepia bandensis can live comfortably in a 40 gallon tank, the reality of the situation is that you probably don’t want to put two hatchling cuttlefish in a 40 gallon tank because you will never see them or be able to know if they are eating. Hatchling cuttles are only ¼ of an inch long and can be completely lost in a larger tank making it impossible to even know if they are feeding.
An easy way to deal for this aspect of Sepia bandensis husbandry is to keep hatchlings in some sort of nursery, such a commercially available ‘net breeder’ used most often for live bearing fish. When setting up the net, I suggest turning it inside out so the hatchlings don’t get caught up in extra netting at the seams. Hang-on tank refugiums can also be used, or small nursery aquariums plumbed into the system – although you must take precautions to ensure the hatchlings won’t be washed out of the container by water returning to the tank, such as foam filter sponge over the outflow.
I like net breeders because they are simple, inexpensive, and incredibly easy to set up. The net breeders hang on the side of the aquarium and allow water to flow freely through the net, so no extra filtration or plumbing is needed. You can easily look through the top to keep track of the health of the cuttle and track its growth. I have successfully kept 4 hatchling Sepia bandensis in net breeders for the first 2-3 months of their lives, and once they grow to about an inch in length they can be let loose in the larger tank.
Net breeders are also great because they keep hatchling cuttlefish in close proximity to their food. For at least the first 2 of weeks after hatching, Sepia bandensis will need some sort of live food, and keeping the food closer to the hatchlings makes it more likely they will be able to find it to eat it. The more they eat, the faster they will grow, and the sooner you can release them in to their permanent home.
By far, the most successful food for hatchling Sepia bandensis is live mysis shrimp. Mysis are highly nutritious and relatively easy for the hatchlings to catch. The drawback to this food is the expense and the effort. Collecting wild mysis and captive culturing mysis are both extremely labor intensive, so they can cost more than one hundred dollars for 200. I prefer cultured mysis to wild mysis, because in my experience they have better survival rates, but plenty of other cephalopod keepers have had great success with wild mysis.
It is important to note that live brine shrimp, though readily available and inexpensive, are widely considered terrible food for cephalopods. Cephalopods raised on live brine, even enriched live brine, have low survival rates and short lives.
Keeping any live food alive can be challenging, and the challenge is compounded with mysis because they can be cannibalistic. To reduce this potential issue, avoid overcrowding, and be sure to feed rotifers or other suitable food regularly. Net breeders can be utilized, or another small tank can be set up to keep the mysis until they are ready to be fed to the cuttlefish. Its also important to get a feel for how many mysis you need per week, and be able to order them before you run out so your cuttlefish don’t go starve or eat each other!
If you are lucky enough to live near the ocean, you may be able to collect your own hatchling cuttle food in the form of small amphipods. Make sure to collect from waters that are as unpolluted as possible, and make sure to check with local regulations regarding collection before beginning. Amphipods can be much more robust than mysis and they can escape from hatchling cuttlefish more easily. I recommend that you start with mysis for the first week or so, allowing your baby cuttlefish to learn hunting skills with the easier prey.
Hatchlings should be fed several times a day, and only as much as they catch in a few minutes. I recommend avoiding ‘flood feeding’, feeding a lot of live food at once, because not only can hatchling Sepia bandensis stop seeing them as prey items, but flood feeding can make the hatchlings harder to wean onto dead food.
Since live food can be expensive, its great to wean your cuttlefish onto thawed frozen food as soon as possible – frozen mysis are a good choice for size and nutrition. Since cuttlefish rely on their eyesight to hunt, often the dead prey may need to be moving to get the cuttlefish to strike. Start by introducing thawed mysis with your live food. The hatchlings, conditioned to striking when live food is dropped into their breeder net, will usually snap up the dead mysis as well. Sometimes you will have to make the dead prey look alive by gently blowing it around, just barely moving it, with a small pipette or turkey baster. Weaning onto dead prey may not work until the hatchlings have moved off small prey and onto larger prey and determining when your hatchlings are able to move off smaller food is a judgment call.
When your cuttlefish are a month old, and have had time to hone their hunting skill on weaker, smaller food, you can try feeding them larger food…even up to foods the same size as the cuttlefish. “Shore shrimp” or “marine janitors” can be ordered on line in various different sizes, and they make a great food for cuttlefish. Just like mysis, they need to be kept alive until fed to the cuttlefish, so be prepared. Once the cuttlefish are taking larger prey, the weaning process as described above works quickly and well, just instead of using dead myisis, you need to use dead, freshly killed or thawed frozen shrimp.
Another weaning method that cephalopod enthusiasts have been experimenting with is some kind of shrimp hanger or feeding station. Glue or tie a small rock to a piece of fishing line as a sinker. Tie the other end, or secure the other end, above the tank so the sinker will be a couple of inches below the bottom of the tank. In the middle of the line, tie or glue a plastic toothpick, and skewer a dead shrimp onto the toothpick. When you place this device into the tank, the current should make the shrimp on the toothpick move around, which will help attract the cuttlefish to feed. If you have multiple cuttlefish, add more toothpicks to the line for more shrimp.
Weaned or not, as the cuttlefish get bigger you will need to get them larger food items. Again, if you live near the ocean, you can collect local crabs or shrimp as needed. You can also check with local bait shops, which may have live shrimp ready to sell. If you live away from the ocean, you can order live fiddler crabs or appropriately sized shrimp from online vendors. If you have weaned your cuttles onto thawed frozen food, any live food, bought or collected, can be obtained in bulk and frozen to use when needed. Frozen bait shrimp or prawns can also be bought or ordered, and even raw, unshelled and unflavored shrimp from the grocery store can be used.
It is important to note that freshwater feeder fish are not a suitable food source for cuttlefish. Not only do they lack fatty acids of saltwater animals, but they are often treated with copper, and copper is deadly to cephalopods. There is no real consensus among cephalopod enthusiasts regarding the suitability of using freshwater crustaceans as food for saltwater animals like ghost shrimp, so I would suggest limiting their use as cuttlefish food.
Even though cuttlefish can tell each other’s sex on sight, it is very difficult for humans to accurately sex them if they aren’t actually sees mating. In general, Sepia bandensis males tend to adopt high contrast black and white patterns when faced with another male, while females tend to keep the more relaxed mottled colors that a resting cuttlefish adopts. However, males sometimes display like females and females sometimes display like males, so to be really sure, you need to see them mating.
Cuttlefish mate by coupling head to head. In this position, the male deposits a packet of sperm, called a spermatophore, into a pouch in the female’s mantle. The mating can last from 10 seconds to many minutes, and it appears that males can use their funnel to flush other male’s sperm out the females pouch. Females can lay several clutches of eggs, up to 250 over the course of their life, and can live for months after egg laying.
Mating begins around month 5, while male displays begin around month 3. It is unclear how long it takes from mating to egg laying.
In groups, Sepia bandensis will mate readily. Males will know when a female is receptive to mating, and will start to display towards each other with the black and white patterns mentioned above, as well as stretching out their arms to intimidate their rivals. The male that wins then mates with the female. Oddly enough, sometimes when several males are displaying towards each other, another male will mate with the female while the other males are occupied with each other. It is also possible for mating to occur with no preamble – the male just swims up to the female, grabs her and mates.
After a successful mating, the female will choose a place to lay eggs. She might lay her eggs on a rock, on the side of the tank, on some macro algae, or on tubing. I have had females lay eggs directly on powerheads or on egg crate tank dividers. The eggs are laid one at a time and will forum a cluster that looks like a bunch of rubbery grapes. In Sepia bandensis, the female adds a little bit of ink to each egg giving them the reddish/black color.
Healthy eggs will start off with a silght point on the end, and slowly expand over 3-4 weeks becoming thinner and more transparent, so much so that it becomes possible to see the baby cuttlefish while it is still in the egg. As the baby matures in the egg, the yolk sack, attached at the front of the cuttle where the arms are/will be, shrinks and finally disappears. The cuttle will even start to swim inside of the egg, just prior to hatching.
Fertility of eggs can range from high to low. I have had entire clusters that have frustratingly failed to develop. It is also possible for hatchlings to emerge from the egg with a yolk sack still attached. This is probably caused by some stressor, and these premature hatchlings rarely, if ever, survive longer than a week.
Assuming you have healthy eggs, I suggest leaving them in place until you start to see the yolk sac disappear. I like to use a small pair of scissors to snip the material that holds the eggs to where they have been laid, taking care to cut as far away from the egg as possible. Be gentle; the eggs can be quite fragile, and it is easy to accidentally puncture or break the egg. Usually, the cluster is held in place only at one or two points so removal is not that difficult. Once the cluster is free, use a cup with tank water, not a net, to move the eggs to their nursery area or net breeder and then leave them alone until they hatch.
It is common for hatchlings not eat for the first few days after hatching, so after a few days you can start to offer them their first live foods and be well on your way to continuing your population of Sepia bandensis.
When you’ve successfully bred your Sepia bandensis, it’s time to trade brood stock with other successful breeders. By doing this conscientiously, we can avoid inbreeding and the potential fecundity drop off that often accompanies the captive breeding of cephalopods.
I have found keeping and breeding Sepia bandensis to be fulfilling and rewarding, and I look forward to more and more people having success with these amazing little creatures.
Books – Cephalopods: Octopuses and Cuttlefish for the Home Aquarium
Online Cephalopod Information:
Live cuttlefish foods:
From Conscientious Aquarist and previously in C-the journal
By far, the most fascinating, challenging and fulfilling animals I have had the pleasure to keep have been cephalopods. The boneless and jointless arms, the all-seeing eyes, the color and texture changing abilities, the jet propulsion locomotion, the misdirection of inking to confuse predators, the ‘live fast and die young’ lifecycle, and the fierce ability to stalk and capture prey make me feel like I am watching aliens from another world.
For the past four years, I have bred and kept dwarf cuttlefish Sepia bandensis, incredible animals in their own right, but they pale in comparison to my most recent cephalopod adventure – the Wunderpus, Wunderpus photogenicus.
The Wunderpus, often confused with the Mimic Octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus), has only recently been described by science, and very little is known about its habits and lifestyle. Wunderpus are found primarily in Indo-Malayan archipelago ‘muck’ habitats; vast, rolling underwater plains of settled silt an mud populated by an unexpectedly large amount of unique animals like the Pegasus Sea Moth, the Ghost Pipefish and a plethora of nudibranchs.
Fitting right in with its odd neighbors, the Wunderpus is a master of camouflage blending into its surroundings with ability that puts chameleons to shame. Digging itself a den in the muck, and emerging at dawn and dusk to hunt small shrimp and fish, the Wunderpus’ spectacular defensive and hunting displays may be mimicry of other poisonous animals like lionfish and sea snakes, or perhaps the displays are a declaration to would be attackers that the Wunderpus is poisonous and should be avoided.
The fantastic displays and supposed ability to mimic the behavior of other animals have generated much attention in the media, and made the Wunderpus a favorite of photographers – which is reflected in its species name, Wunderpus photogenicus. Some local collectors caught on to the inherent beauty of this animal, and began exporting them for the aquarium trade (at retail prices exceeding $400 an animal) before science has had time to catch up. So much so that several of the specimens used to describe the animal were obtained from aquarium stores.
Keeping a Cephalopod?
In general, keeping cephalopods isn’t a project to be entered into lightly. They require the stable and clean water quality of a reef tank. They don’t live well with other marine animals, either eating them or being eaten by them. Octopus are escape artists, and if the tank isn’t properly ‘octo-proofed’ the aquarist will most likely wake up one morning to find an empty aquarium, perhaps finding the dried out husk of the animal in another room a day later.
Cephalopods not only eat voraciously, but they often only accept live foods, making them startlingly expensive animals to keep. Obtaining an animal can be difficult because there are notoriously terrible shippers, often arriving at their destination dead in a bag of ink filled water.
But the biggest downside to keeping a cephalopod is their short lifespan. Many warm water cephalopods live less than a year naturally, and since most in the trade are wild-caught adults, their lifespan in the home aquarium may be as short as a few weeks.
Keeping the Wunderpus in captivity
So far, Wunderpus have done dismally in captivity, generally living only a few days or weeks in aquaria. It is unclear if the species is more fragile than other cephalopods; if the people buying them are more interested in having the newest animal than in proper husbandry; or if the chain of custody in the aquarium industry makes it difficult to obtain a healthy, undamaged specimen.
Even knowing about all the potential pitfalls of cephalopod husbandry, keeping a Wunderpus warrants special consideration. Many cephalopod enthusiasts feel that the Wunderpus shouldn’t even be collected for the trade at least until more scientific research has been done on the species. The size of Wunderpus populations in the wild is unknown, and it is unclear what effect their collection will have on those populations.
If little is known about what they need to survive in the wild, even less is known about what they need to live well in an aquarium. After much wrestling with this issue, I urge even experienced cephalopod keepers to think long and hard before bringing one into the home aquarium. I accepted responsibility for Fontanelle because, by serendipity, I was able to obtain a healthy animal before it was tanked at an importer at a time when I had a mature, cephalopod-ready aquarium available.
Every morning as I went downstairs to my cephalopod room I expected to find my specimen, a male named Fontanelle, dead. Amazingly, I was able to keep Fontanelle alive for just over 10 months and I attribute this success to having a Wunderpus ready aquarium cycled and ready to go when the octopus became available. If I had had to throw a system together for this animal, I am sure it would not have lived nearly as long.
My cephalopod system has taken over an entire room in my house. It totals roughly 300 gallons of various sized aquariums, cubes and water tables plumbed into a central sump located under the house. There is a 1000 watt heater, at ½ HP chiller, a remote deep sandbed, a large needle wheel skimmer, live rock spread thorough the various tanks, and a macro algae growing chamber to help export nutrients. The water quality levels are maintained at the basic values needed for reef tanks, although the Nitrate is generally higher than I would like; pH 8.0-8.4, 78 degrees F, Ammonia 0, Nitrite 0, Nitrate 20-40, and salinity 34ppt. Since corals are not kept in this system, I rarely check Calcium, Alkalinity or Magnesium, but all water for water changes come from my reef system so I suspect those levels are well within reef keeping range.
I cover all overflows with filter foam glued or zip tied in place to prevent an octopus from going on walkabout in the plumbing. I prevent octopus escape from the top of the tank by gluing a piece of acrylic to the top of the tank, with holes drilled for any needed wires or plumbing, then I use 2 part epoxy to seal any gaps. The remaining open portion of the top of the tank is then be fitted with a piece of acrylic fitted with an acrylic flange that overlaps the piece that is glued to the top of the tank. The ‘lid’ is then screwed or weighted in place. . I usually cut a hole and glue a plastic jar mouth and screw on lid in place to make getting food into the tank easier and less stressful to the octopus.
If you are interested in keeping any kind of cephalopod, please do your research before your purchase. I highly recommend the online resource www.TONMO.com (the place on the net for all things cephalopod) and the book Cephalopods: Octopuses and Cuttlefish for the Home Aquariumby Nancy King and Colin Dunlop.
Fontanelle and me
My first priority with Fontanelle was keeping him alive; I kept him under constant, worried, surveillance for the first week, but I did nothing to disturb him. He ate, explored his new home in the mornings and evenings, and spent the rest of the time in his den behind the intake of the hang-on-back overflow on the aquarium.
Sometimes in the middle of the night (yes, I do check on animals in the middle of the night) or early in the morning, I caught him burrowing into the substrate, something that it seems no one has seen before in captivity.
Fontanelle had been doing well for several weeks, so, hoping to simulate the ‘muck’ of his natural environment, I decided to plumb another tank into the system to provide him a variety of mud and sand substrates.
I did everything I could think of to make the transition to the new aquarium as stress free as possible. The new tank used the same lighting, similar flow, an identical external overflow, some rocks from the old tank, and had similar positioning in the room.
I was able to easily coax Fontanelle into a plastic bowl, transferring him into his new home in less than a minute. He has made several attempts at digging in the mud substrate, but, just as in the old tank, has made his den behind the intake to the external overflow.
As he settled into his new home, I witnessed new displays. The extra space allowed him to swim across the tank, body thinned out with two arms probing forward and 6 arms trailing behind. Appearing to claim his territory he swirled, arms curled about him, extending his arm membranes to appear huge and fierce. While hunting a small shrimp, he pounces from above shaping his arms and membranes into an umbrella to trap his prey against the substrate.
Personally, my favorite display is when lines of color pulse up his two eyestalks like the electrical arcing of a Jacobs Ladder – I’m not quite sure what that means in octopus, but it sure is impressive.
The bittersweet consequence of Fontanelle’s acclimation is that the more impressive displays appear less and less, which seems a fair trade for his continued survival.
So far, breeding Wunderpus in captivity has been utterly unsuccessful – which makes sense given how little we actually know about these animals. In the few cases where eggs have been hatched in aquaria, the planktonic paralarvae did not accept any foods and all died within 5 days. Hopefully in the near future, the life-cycle of the Wunderpus can be closed and captive breeding of these animals will become a reality, making tank-acclimated specimens available to aquarists, and without collectors having to take specimens from wild populations.
The Wunderpus is an amazing animal in all respects and I feel honored that I have been able to keep Fontanelle alive and healthy for so long. I am thrilled at my current success, but due to all the unknowns regarding wild populations, I am hesitant to try to obtain any more Wunderpus even possibly for an attempt to breed them. In the future, I hope this species become available as captive bred specimens while the wild populations thrive.
Cephalopods may very well be the coolest animals in our oceans. They are problem-solvers, can change the shape, texture and color of their skin, and are master predators. These animals have long been of interest for aquarists, but their short life spans and poorly understood husbandry needs have made them quite challenging to maintain. While keeping cephalopods is still something not to be entered into lightly, there is now a much greater understanding of their needs. In this article I’ll discuss some general concepts concerning keeping these animals, and clear up some of the common misconceptions about their care.
Fun cephalopod facts
The word cephalopod comes from greek and means ‘head footed’; all of a cephalopod’s limbs come directly off its head in a ring around the mouth. Cephalopods are mollusks, related to clams and snails. There are over 1000 species of cephalopod. They occur in almost every sea, inhabiting most saltwater zones from the sand to the open ocean. Their soft flesh makes them highly desired prey, so they have become excellent at hiding, camouflage, and escape. Cephs are carnivorous, short-lived, and fast growing. Cephalopods have 3 hearts (the two extra pump blood through the gills), copper based blood, a ring shaped brain, arms and/or tentacles, a funnel for jet propulsion and respiration, generally excellent eyesight, a beak, the ability to produce and expel ink, and an ability to alter their color and skin texture providing excellent camouflage protection from predators. The plural of octopuses is octopuses, not octopi, but through common usage octopi is acceptable.
What kind of cephalopod?
The first question a new cephalopod keeper needs to answer is ‘what kind of cephalopod do I want to keep?’ There are essentially three type of cephalopods that are kept in home aquaria; Octopus, cuttlefish and Nautilus. Even determining that you want to keep one of the three is not specific enough as there are many different species that all have different requirements. Cuttlefish and octopus can be giant large, medium or small, nocturnal or diurnal, come from warm, temperate or cold water habitats, so clearly it is important to know what you are getting before you get it so you can meet the particular animals needs.
Keeping cephalopods in almost any sort of community aquarium is a bad idea. Either the ceph will eat the tank mates or the tank mates will eat the ceph. Sure, if you dig around online you can find people who claim to keep cephalopods with fish, seahorses and other cephs, but the exchanges usually stop after a few weeks of reported success and are replaced with eerie silence. When tracked down, the keeper usually confides that, indeed, one of the animals ate the other.
Many corals will do well when housed with cephalopods, but be sure to avoid anything with nasty stings or sweeper tentacles. If keeping soft corals with cephalopods, be prepared deal with whatever toxins may be released from the softies by running carbon or doing water chages more often than you normally would.
You can find many reports of aquarists feeding feeder goldfish, guppies or brine shrimp to cephalopods – none of which actually are appropriate foods. It may work for a while, but eventually, such diets lead to dead cephalopods. Freshwater guppies and goldfish don’t have the right mix of fatty and amino acids that saltwater carnivores appear to need and are often treated with copper which is deadly to cephalopods, while brine shrimp simply doesn’t provide enough nutrition.
Not all cephalopods eat the same foods. For instance, many octopus will eat animals like snails, hermit crabs, and clams, but most cuttlefish will not. Cephalopods generally eat a lot of food. To prepare for your ceph friend its important to research their feeding needs and make sure you can either collect or easily purchase appropriate foods for all their stages of life, either locally or through the mail.
Cephalopods also often need different foods during different stages of life. When cephalopods hatch they are almost always very small (Sepia bandensis can be .157in/4mm when hatched!) and will require very small, live foods. As they get bigger they will need larger and large foods to sustain them. Many newly hatched cephalopods have a hunting learning curve and may need easy to catch prey items like live mysis before they can move onto harder-to-catch foods like amphipods.
Good foods include saltwater crabs and shrimp supplemented with the occasional saltwater fish. Freshwater crustaceans can also be used as it seems their nutritional profile is very close to their saltwater counterparts. I have reared a generation of Sepia bandensis on mostly freshwater ghost shrimp. Some cephalopods, young or adult, can be trained to take thawed frozen dead foods, which means that you can feed them good quality shellfish from the grocery store or other frozen aquarium foods like mysis, silversides, or other shrimp from your local aquarium store. There are even some reliable reports of newly hatched octopus eating cyclopeeze.
There are several ways to train a ceph to take non-living food and most of them involve making the ceph think the food is still alive by gently making it move with some kind of turkey baster, pushing it with a thin acrylic rod, feeding with a feeding stick while moving the food as if it were alive, or having enough current in the tank to keep the food item moving. Mixing live and thawed food together can also help the ceph transition off of live food. Conditioning the ceph with some kind of pavlovian response can also work. Most of the time, the only reason I open the lid of my ceph tanks is to feed, and the cephalopods pretty quickly associate the lid opening with feeding and will soon strike at anything living or dead dropped into the tank. I have also gotten into the habit of tapping on the tank lid twice before I feed to let them know food is coming. Finally, there is the shrimp mobile method that seems to work very well for cuttlefish – a toothpick is tied/glued to a weighted fishing line and a shrimp, either live or thawed frozen is skewered on the toothpick and the line is hung in the tank. The current in the tank makes the food item move around and attracts the cuttle. This method also helps keep the food off the bottom of the tank where clean up animals like crabs or bristleworms can get it, plus its also fun to see cuttlefish pulling shrimp off the toothpicks.
Escape/Cephalopod proofing a tank
While it is true that some cephalopods are escape artists, some clearly are not. For instance, with its heavy shell and short thin tentacles, a Nautilus is not going to climb out of an aquarium. Similarly, a cuttlefish is also not going to climb out of an aquarium – though it is possible that cuttlefish may jump out of an aquarium though I have yet to see it happen. The most well known escape artist are the octopus, and even though some species I have kept have never made the attempt to escape, I find it prudent to assume all octopus may escape and protect the aquarium appropriately. All overflows must be covered with secured foam either glued or zip tied in place so the octopus can’t take a trip through the plumbing. The top of the tank must also be protected. I am a fan of fitting a piece of acrylic over the a portion of the top of the tank with holes cut or drilled into it to allow any wiring and plumbing to pass into the tank. The acrylic is then glued onto the top of the tank, and any gaps in the plumbing/wiring holes are plugged with epoxy putty. The remaining portion of the top of the tank can then be covered with a tight fitting piece of acrylic that can be locked or screwed into place in such a way that the octopus cannot move it to escape.
It is important to protect cephalopods from things in the tank that could hurt the animal. The intake of any powerhead or pump must be cephalopod proofed to prevent cephalopods appendages from being damaged and to prevent cephalopods from being sucked into the pump intakes. Sponge filter foam glued or held in place with plastic zip ties will usually do the trick.
Cephalopods need pristine water quality?
While water quality is a concern for all captive marine environments, the idea that cephalopods needs super crazy pristine water quality to survive seems a little over blown in my opinion. I think this idea of pristine water came about as a way to explain cephalopods not surviving long in captivity back when we didn’t have a good idea that poor handling practices during transit have disastrous effects on cephalopods. While good water quality should be the goal, I have seen many ceph keepers get over involved in chasing good numbers instead of looking for stable values. I keep cephalopods essentially the same way I keep a reef – don’t skimp on equipment, do regular water changes, and strive for stable water conditions.
Cephalopods need cold water?
This depends on species. Sepia bandensis like tropical temps from around 78F/25.5C while Sepia officinalis will prefer temperatures in the 68F/20C range. Octopus bimaculodies like cooler temps around 68C/20C or cooler while Adopus aculeatus like warmer temps around 78/25.5C. If you know what animal you are getting, you can plan for appropriate temps in your aquarium giving your ceph a better chance at a longer life.
High intensity lights will blind and kill cephalopods?
This also depends on the species. Obviously, a nocturnal animal won’t be out much while high intensity lights are on, but diurnal cephalopods should be able to take the lighting without a problem. If these animals are out and about on the reef during the midday sun, surely they can handle bright lights.
Cephalopods need large tanks?
Again, this depends on the species. A single Sepia bandensis can live well in a 30 gallon tank, while a Sepia officinalis would need something much larger in the 100-150G/378-567L range. If you are raising cephalopods from hatchlings or juveniles, you are probably going to need different size tanks/containers at different stages of life. A 1in/2.5cm or smaller cuttlefish in a 150G/567L gallon tank isn’t practical because it will get lost in such a big space. I often have a net breeder in the tank for small cuttlefish, a nursery tank for juveniles, and when they are large enough they move into the display/breeding tank. Hatchling octopus are more challenging because they need to be house in something small and escape proof like a jar with a tight fitting mesh lid.
Happily, some of the off the shelf nano aquariums can easily be modified to be octo proofed for some of the commonly available dwarf species.
Cephalopods die after breeding?
While there is some truth to this, it does not hold for all cephalopods. Most cuttlefish available to hobbyists do not die after breeding at all, instead they can spend the last half of their lives breeding and laying eggs over and over again. There are some species of octopus that can lay and brood several clutches of eggs over their lifetimes. Those that do breed only once don’t really die after breeding, rather the female will often stop eating once eggs are laid and die shortly after her eggs hatch while the males may or may not breed many times before their end.
Cephalopod ink is poisonous?
This idea came about when cephalopods shipped in bags ink during transit and are dead on arrival. While it appears that most ceph ink contains some kind of toxin, it seems that this toxin in not what killed these animals. Rather, the ink covers the gills and suffocates the animals. While an inking event in the home aquarium can be dangerous, it is something that can easily be combated by ensuring that the system is running an appropriately sized, quality protein skimmer to remove the ink from the water over a few hours (as well as helping maintain good water quality). Having activated carbon on hand can also help in clearing up inking events.
Cephalopods ship poorly?
In my opinion cephalopods got this reputation because the were poorly understood and treated badly in the chain of custody. However, if collected well and treated well, cephalopods ship just fine. Fortunately, it seems people in the chain of custody have begun to understand the shipping and husbandry needs of these animals, and are taking better care of them during transit.
Getting an animal
This can be the most frustrating aspect of ceph keeping. Cephalopods are not consistently available, and what’s worse, they are often identified incorrectly by whoever is selling them or collecting them. Often, ordering a particular species sight unseen ends means you may wind up with whatever species happens to be available instead of the one you actually want. The best way to deal with this problem is to take a photo of the ceph in question at an LFS or find a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) website with a photo of the actual animal for sale and post that picture on the site for all things cephy, www.TONMO.com. While identifying a ceph from a photo is not always accurate, TONMO is a central hub for ceph enthusiasts and professionals, so the ID info you get there is generally pretty good. Plus, because these people live and breathe cephalopods, many are up to date on what animals are currently available (both captive bred and wild caught) where to get them, and can help answer any husbandry issues, so I consider the site an invaluable resource.
Short life span
Most tropical cephalopods live between 1 and 2 years. As it nears the end of its life span, a cephalopod can enter “senescence.” During this stage of life, the animal becomes listless, stops feeding and its overall body coordination deteriorates. The animal seems not to care about anything, sometimes not bothering to get away from normally harmless clean up crew animals like hermit crabs and bristle worms…even when those animals begin eating their living flesh. In the wild, animals going through senescence would quickly be eaten by a predator, but in a captive environment some cephalopods can go in and out of senescence for months. Thus, the reality of ceph keeping is that you don’t have much time to enjoy the animal, and the ending may not be pretty, so be prepared.
There are a number of exotic species of ceph that have been appearing for sale with some regularity including Wunderpus photogenicus, mimic octopus (Thaumoctopus mimicus) and flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia sp). Even experienced cephalopod keepers with mature tanks should think long and hard before obtaining these species. Their needs are resource intensive, specific, and not yet fully understood. Since these animals are almost always only available as adults they have months or weeks left to live and their impressive price tags make keeping them hard to justify. Perhaps more importantly, the size and health of their wild populations is unknown, so their collection may have very real negative impacts on the survival of the species.
Blue ring octopus (Hapalochlaena sp.) are commonly available, but in my opinion, they should be considered exotic because they are incredibly venomous. While there has never been a documented case of a hobbyist being killed by these animals, and the amount of venom varies with individual animals, ignoring the possibility of being bitten seems like a bad idea. It is possible for blue ring venom to kill an adult human in minutes, and there is no known antidote. It is pretty obvious that if you are going to keep one of these animals it is only prudent to be extra super careful octoproofing the aquarium and to strictly follow venomous animal protocols. Better yet, I would avoid the species completely.
Nautiluses are one of the most frequently improperly kept cephalopods in the hobby. Since these animals are found in tropical places like Palau, many people wrongly assume they will thrive in a tropical aquarium. During the day, nautilus dive as deep as 1500f/457m where the water temperature can be below 50F/10C and only rise to the shallower, warmer water at night. In captivity, their lives tend to be very short when kept in warm water, so if you plan to attempt to keep a nautilus plan on a chiller. Nautilus also require a large, deeper tank devoid of complicated aquascaping so they don’t jet into rocks and injure themselves or crack their shells. Interestingly, Nautilus have some of the poorest eyesight in the ceph world and their eyes are not encased in an orb or fluid, rather they are open to seawater and amount to what is essentially a pinhole camera.
With their beautiful shells and many tentacled faces, they seem like incredibly intriguing animals, but the reality is that most of the time the do little besides float in the water or hold onto the side of the tank. When they feed they are incredibly interesting, but this only lasts for a minute or two, so be prepared for this animals massive inactivity before you bring one home.
In the last few years there have been great advances in breeding several species of cephalopods. Breeding cuttlefish is relatively straightforward, as the mating is generally not violent and males and females can be kept together, sometimes in groups, as long as the aquarium is large enough to provide sufficient space for the animals to avoid each other. Cuttlefish lay clutches of relatively large eggs, and hatch as miniature copies of adults right out of the egg. There have been some issues with the viability of eggs over successive generations.
Octopus on the other hand, are a bit more complicated. Octopus can be thought of as two groups, small egged and large egged. Small egged octopus lay small eggs that hatch out as planktonic paralarvae which stay in the water column before developing into something resembling their parents. The paralarvae are currently essentially impossible raise or feed. Large egged octos on the other hand, emerge from the egg as miniature versions of their parents, ready to feed.
When available, captive bred cephalopods make better pets than wild caught cephalopods simply because you will know their age, and therefore have a more accurate idea of how long they will live. Captive bred cephalopods are sometimes available for sale onwww.TOMNO.com.
Keeping and breeding cephalopods has been some of the most rewarding of my saltwater experiences. I hope this article clarifies some of the issues surrounding the care of these animals and inspires cephalopod keepers to do some extra research prior to purchase so that their experience can be as fulfilling as mine has been.
Cephalopods: Octopuses and Cuttlefish for the Home Aquarium by Colin Dunlop and Nancy King
Cephalopods: A World Guide by Mark Norman and Helmut Debelius
As it turns out, those pretty spots on the mantle of the octopus Wunderpus photogenicus are unique to each animal and could be used to track these animals in the wild in much the same way that whales are tracked. Currently, there is not much information on this cephalopod in the wild because their crepuscular lifestyle and ‘muck’ habitat make it particularly difficult to track indivduals. Plus, being small and delicate means that they cannot be tagged by any of the conventional means. Hit the read link for the full story.
Since Wunderpus is one of the most sought after underwater photo subjects, professional and amateur photographers alike can contribute to gathering info on wild populations by contributing photos to the Wunderpix website. The paper ‘Individually Unique Body Color Patterns in Octopus (Wunderpus photogenicus) Allow for Phtoidentification” is available online here.
Before everyone runs out to try to get one of these animals for their home it is important to note that they need a species only tank, specialized food, specialized substrate, they are not able to be cultured in captivity, most of the collected animals die within a few weeks, they are incredibly expensive (up to 700 dollars expensive) and they make incredibly boring pets because 99% of the time they do absolutely nothing.
Interestingly, even the sharing of information, photos and video of these animals can be controversial. Some fear that detailed information and attractive photos or video may encourage impulse buys of these animals which is always a bad thing. I believe that the admiration of a species can be of benefit to its preservation in the wild rather than its detriment. Furthermore, it is my hope that the information on the site will empower aquarists to make sound, rational decisions regarding the advisability of keeping these very difficult animals.
If you are interested in keeping cephalopods, there are several species that are easily available, better understood and much more inexpensive than Wunderpus. Please do some reading on www.TONMO.com before purchasing any ceph, and look at things to think about before keeping a cephalopod on www.wunderpus.net.
Originally published in AdavancedAquarist.com, http://www.advancedaquarist.com/2005/9/aafeature, republished here with permission from the author.
I may be biased. Ok, I am completely biased. I think cuttlefish may very well be the coolest animals on the planet. They maneuver around their tank like hummingbirds, vertically, horizontally, their fin appearing blurred like bird wings. (Image 1) As they fly about they flash amazing color changes, creating patterns that pulse and shift and shimmer on the canvas of their skin. They are master predators, stalking their prey with cunning and attacking with accuracy, speed and skill. Over time, they learn to recognize and respond to you, and will often greet you when you walk into the room (or maybe they just know you bring the food). They are smart, beautiful and unusual, and unlike certain other eight-armed Cephalopods, they don’t try to escape from your aquarium.
My infatuation with cuttlefish started when I was a kid. To me, they just looked like extraterrestrials, and they seemed so smart that I wanted to know more about them. I read about them, made expeditions to public aquariums to see them, and watched any program on cephalopods, hoping to catch a glimpse of these fascinating creatures. Through it all, I hoped for a cuttlefish of my own, but none ever seemed to reach the market. I kept seeing shows on research being done on cuttlefish, but no research station breeding them is able sell them to individuals (please don’t bother them by asking!).
Twenty years later, after I had become proficient at reefkeeping, I started noticing cuttlefish appearing at local fish stores about once a year. However, they always seemed unhealthy and I was reluctant to try my hand with less-than-robust animals. Finally, in 2003 (I waited a long time!) two cuttles came into a LFS that I am friendly with. When both cuttles eagerly ate, I decided to take a chance. Two years later, I converted an entire room in my house to cuttle fish breeding and husbandry. For more information on my set up, and cuttlefish video (I am quite proud of the videos) please check outwww.DaisyHillCuttleFarm.com.
Keeping cephalopods, and especially cuttlefish, in home aquariums is still in its infancy, so I thought I would write an article with all the information I would have wanted when I started keeping them. This is not to say that there isn’t info out there – The Octopus News Magazine Online (www.TONMO.com), which recently held its first cephalopod convention in Monterey Ca, and The Cephalopod Page, currently celebrating its 10 year anniversary (www.thecephalopodpage.org), both have much good information and I use them often; this article is intended to supplement those resources. My hope is that one day, cultured cuttlefish will be commonplace in the aquarium hobby, and I hope that this article will entice people to not only keep them as pets, but will inspire people to breed them as well.
Most of the information available on cuttlefish concerns itself with Sepia officinalis, mainly because they have been raised and used widely for research in the scientific research community. Another reason there is hobby-side information on S. officinalis is because they have been relatively easy for European hobbyists to obtain.
I believe that S. bandensis, provided captive bred/raised animals are available, are well suited to life in the home aquarium. It is important to note that I am not a cuttlefish ‘guru’ and that I expect that some of my ideas regarding cuttlefish husbandry will change as more people start keeping these animals successfully. There is much we don’t know, and it is my hope that my experience and ideas will inspire more people to work with these amazing animals, that our knowledge of their husbandry needs grows rapidly, and that captive raised S. bandensis become commonplace in the near future.There is sporadic importation of other species of cuttlefish into the USA, the most common of these imports is Sepia bandensis. There isn’t much information on keeping S. bandensis because they have not been studied very much in the scientific arena, and they have rarely survived for very long in the home aquarium.
Nuts and bolts
Definitions: Just what the origin of the word ‘cuttlefish’ is has not been pinned down, but according to cephalopod researcher John W Forsythe, “The name Cuttlefish originally came about as the best guess of how to spell or pronounce the Dutch or perhaps Norwegian name for these beasts. It is derived from something like ‘codele-fische’ or ‘kodle-fische’. In German today, cuttlefish and squids are called tintenfische, meaning ‘ink-fish’. I’ve been told that the term fische actually refers to any creature that lives in the sea or are caught in nets when fishing, not just fishes. Anyway, that’s what I understand the derivation of name to be.”1
The cuttlefish isn’t a fish at all – it is a cephalopod. Cephalopod researcher Dr. James Wood sums it up well; “Octopuses, squids, cuttlefish and the chambered nautilus belong to class Cephalopoda, which means ‘head foot’. Cephalopods are a class in the phylum Mollusca which also contains bivalves (scallops, oysters, clams), gastropods (snails, slugs, nudibranchs), scaphopods (tusk shells) and polyplacophorans (chitons)”2, however unlike their relatives, cephalopod move much faster, actively hunt their food, and seem to be quite intelligent.
Physiology: A cuttlefish has 8 arms, with two rows of suckers along each arm, and two feeding tentacles with at least two rows of suckers along each. The tentacles are tipped with a tentecular club, each covered with suckers while the ‘shaft’ of the tentacle is smooth. The tentacles and tentecular club act much the same as a chameleon’s tongue; they shoot out to snare prey and bring it back to be eaten by a beak-like mouth and a wire brush like tongue called a radula.(Image 2) Cephalopods have three hearts, a ring shaped brain, blue, copper based blood, and have a lifespan between 6 months and 3 years.
Cuttlefish have amazing eyesight having ‘w’ shaped pupils which, according to cephalopod specialist Mark Norman “when closed, forms two separate pupil openings.”3
They are also known for the amazing chromatophores, leucophores and iridophores that change the color of their skin. (Image 3 and 4) At any time, half of their body may be one pattern, while the other is completely different pattern. The patterns aren’t necessarily static either, they move, like animation on a TV screen; one pattern is referred to as ‘passing clouds’ because it seems to mimic the shadows of clouds passing overhead – although the pattern is also thought to mesmerize prey (see videos at www.DaisyHillCuttleFarm). These animations are thought to aid in communication, hunting and camouflage. To evade predators or hide from prey, they not only rely on their color-changing abilities but will also shape skin on their bodies into textured protrusions (Image 5), expel ink from their bodies, and ‘jet’ rapidly away from danger.
For locomotion cuttlefish generally use a two-tiered approach: a fin that girds their mantle, as well as the jet propulsion of water pumped over the gills and through their funnel. This ‘jetting’ is often used when the animal is seriously threatened, and can move the cuttlefish surprisingly quickly. Some cuttlefish, like S. bandensis and Metasepia pfefferi (flamboyant cuttlefish), actually walk across the sand using their bottom two arms and two lobes on the back part of the bottom of the mantle.
One of the most well known features of the cuttle fish is the cuttle bone, which is used by pet owners to provide calcium for caged birds. This lighter-than-balsa-wood, gas filled, multi-chambered internal calcified ‘shell’ gives the cuttlefish its buoyancy control.
Cuttlefish can also produce copious amounts of ink if startled. It is thought that the ink acts as a smokescreen to allow the cuttlefish to escape predation. Some cuttlefish ink forms ‘pseudomorphs’, or blobs of ink that are thought to further aid in escape from predation by presenting the predator with multiple targets. The question of the toxicity of cuttlefish ink is still up in the air, although it is clear that some cephalopod ink is indeed toxic, but again, the major reason the ink is thought to be toxic is because it coats their gills, causing them to suffocate. This ink has been used by humans as, well, ink; the genus shares its name with ink – Sepia. The cuttlefish ink is also used as an ingredient in many ‘snake oil’ medicines that claim to cure everything from insomnia to menopause. Cuttlefish are also quite tasty, and prepared in every way possible, from raw to deep fried snack foods.
Hard to Keep?
Cuttlefish have traditionally been thought of as a difficult animal to keep. I don’t think that is necessarily true – IF you can keep a reef tank (and understand the basics of cuttlefish care). If you have never kept a reef tank, I would strongly suggest keeping one before you start on cuttlefish – even if not all husbandry methods are transferable. Since the basics of keeping both coral and cuttlefish are similar, and since cultured corals are becoming so readily available, coral seems like a better creature to “learn on” than cuttlefish.
In my opinion, much of the reputation of being difficult to keep comes from cuttles being mistreated during collection and shipping: often housed together, the resultant fighting can cause injuries and infections, while stressed animals can ink in shipping bags causing them to suffocate.
If you can get your hands on a cuttle in good shape, I have found them to be pretty resilient and adaptable. Two cuttles I recently got from a local wholesaler were in good shape and were eating thawed frozen krill the second day I had them, and exhibiting ‘begging’ behavior on the third!
However, please remember that cuttlefish are short-lived animals (which has also bolstered the thought that they are difficult animals to keep), so get prepared for your little alien friend that greets you every time you walk into the room to be with you for l3 months or less. According to James Wood, “lifespan in cephalopods seems to be a function of two things, the water temperature that they live at and the size they mature at. Species that mature at a small size and live in warm water have the shortest lifespan.”4
There are many ways for a cuttlefish to die. An injury from fighting can become infected or the injury itself can be terminal. Sometimes, a cuttlefish will be eating well and active one day, only to be floating lifeless the next morning. If you are able to keep a cuttlefish to the end of its natural lifespan, you may get to experience the animal going through senescence, which really means the process of getting old, but in cephalopods the process is downright gut wrenching. The onset of senescence is often marked by a clouding of the eyes. Since eyesight it central to a cuttlefish’s hunting ability, such clouding can be disastrous. The ability to track and catch prey is impeded, with the animal’s tentacles seeming to not function properly and an inability of the tentecular club to hold onto prey. Eventually, the animal can become lethargic, showing no interest at all in eating or even moving. To make it even more painful, senescence can last for days or months.
The death of your cuttlefish is awful and it is going to happen; be prepared.
There are essentially two species of cuttlefish that are ‘available’ to the aquarium trade – Sepia officinalis and Sepia bandensis.
Much has been written about S. officinalis because they are bred all over the world for different kinds of research – from neuron research to behavioral research. While S. officinalis are pretty simple to get a hold of if you are a researcher, or live in Europe, they are quite difficult to get in the US. What’s even worse from a practical point of view, is they get big – 18 inches. It is recommended that the smallest aquarium for a single animal be at least 200 gallons. They are from ‘cool’ waters and like a water temp between 59 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit.
I believe that Sepia bandensis, on the other hand, are the perfect animal for the home aquarium because they are small: about 4 inches. Since S. bandensis is the species with which I have the most experience, they are the focus of this article. However, if you are interested in Sepia officinalis, please read this article by Colin Dunlop (http://www.tonmo.com/cephcare/cuttlefishcare.php), or this article by Dr. James Wood (http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/cuttle1.html).
There are many Sepia species that are similar to each other, and many may not have been identified yet, so proper identification can be very difficult. For instance, it is possible that the first cuttles I got were not S. bandensis, but I only came to this conclusion after raising bunches of cuttles that I am more sure are S. bandensis through observations.
Other species sometimes seen in the hobby are pharaoh cuttlefish, Sepia pharaonis, which are even less available than S. officinalis. I once had the honor of keeping a flamboyant cuttlefish, Metasepia pfefferi – but not enough is known about them to make me feel comfortable recommending them as pets, and there seem to be indications that their populations in the wild are in decline.
Getting a cuttlefish
Getting a cuttlefish, especially in the US, is currently difficult. There are no cuttles native to North America, so unlike our friends in the rest of the world, you can’t just go and collect your own; you have to hope that your LFS will get one in stock. Still, there is hope.
There are other people, just as into cuttlefish as I am, working on breeding Sepia bandensis in the US and the UK. Last year Octopets.com offered captive raised Sepia officinalis for sale – and plan to again this year. Octopets.com is the only facility culturing octopus for the hobby in the US, and they also sell a variety of other marine animals. Recently, I have been working with Octopets.com to help them establish S. bandensis brood stock on a larger scale than what I am working with.
I am a huge fan of captive propagation in general, and think the benefits of captive-bred or captive-raised cuttlefish are massive – the animals are already acclimated to captive conditions, already eating available foods, and don’t go through the stress of being collected or shipped from another continent; not to mention reducing the demands on wild populations.
Another option is to raise your animals from eggs; cuttlefish eggs, usually S. bandensis, show up in the hobby from time to time. They are usually added to orders as ‘filler’ and one wholesaler told me they feed them to fish at his facility! Raising baby cuttles from eggs has its own host of problems and benefits that will be addressed later in this article.
Setting Up for S. bandensis
S. bandensis don’t get very big, 4 inches or less, and a single animal can easily be kept in smallish aquaria. They seem to be very reluctant to ink, they tend to become very personable very quickly and, unlike octopus, they don’t try to escape from their aquarium. Whenever I walk into my cuttle room, they all swim to the front of their tanks to see if I will feed them. They really seem to be the perfect cephalopod for the home aquarium.
Below is a breakdown of what is needed to keep a single S. bandensis in a sumpless system. I am not going to go into very much detail because I am hoping that anyone who wants to keep a cuttlefish already has some basic experience in keeping saltwater tanks and understands the nitrogen cycle. If you don’t, but are still interested in keeping a cuttlefish, I suggest you check out Reef.org’s New Reefers Forum (http://reefs.org/phpBB2/viewforum.php?f=64).
- S. bandensis can be kept in tanks as small as a 20 gallon high, although a 30 gallon high is better for a single animal. They prefer to have a tall tank, and seem to like the feel of the height of the water above them. They can, of course, be kept in bigger tanks, but the bigger the tank the harder it might be to make sure a small cuttlefish sees its food.
- Any water pump, powerhead or filter intake should be covered with a filter sponge, or something similar, to keep the cuttlefish from being sucked into the filter or sucked against the intake.
- A protein skimmer is a must, not only for oxygenation and water cleanliness issues, but also to deal with ink events. A hang on back skimmer will work just fine – I like the Bak Pak with a wooden air stone added to the reaction chamber to produce more foam. I have also used the Remora Pro, but never really got much skimmate out of it, but some people swear by them. Any decent skimmer will do.
- A hang-on back – Preferably with a surface skimmer attachment to suck ‘scum’ off the top of the water. The mechanical filtration provided is helpful because cuttlefish are messy eaters and messy excreters. A HOB filter is also a good place to run carbon to help deal with inking events or other water quality issues. Make sure you change or rinse the filter media often. The HOB filter will also give you plenty of circulation for S. bandensis – provided you get the right sized filter for the right sized tank. I use Aquaclear 500′s on 20 gallon high tanks. A canister filter will also work just as well.
- Extra water flow – If you need extra water flow, a power head will work just fine (but cover the intake with a filter sponge!). Air pumps are also very efficient at moving water, and make especially good water movement for baby cuttlefish.
- Heater – S. bandensis come from at least the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and seem to do just fine between 78 and 80 degrees.
- Chiller (if you need it). In the SF Bay area I have never needed one, but if I did need one I would use an IceProbe Micro Chiller DIY’d onto a hang on back filter. I doubt you would need one for this species. For S. officinalis you very well might want one.
- Water quality – Specific gravity should be around 1.025, pH 8.1-8.4, Ammonia, nitrite and nitrate as close to 0 as possible.
- Make sure that the tank has completely finished its nitrogen cycle and is ready for a high biological load before adding a cuttlefish.
- Lighting is not much of an issue as cuttles don’t really need it. I use Lights of America fixtures5 from Home Depot or Costco to keep the macro algae growing. Some people have reported cuttles going blind from high intensity lighting, but I am not sure if I believe it. Cuttlefish eyesight tends to go as they reach senescence – the eyes cloud over and they find it hard to see their prey, and these are the symptoms that people have reported keeping cuttles under high intensity lighting. It is hard to tell if the timing of the eye problems is coincidence or caused by the lighting. Your lighting will also determine what corals, if any, you keep with the cuttle.
- Aquascaping – I like to create big arches so the cuttles have places to hide, but are still easy to find. I suggest going light on the live rock to make it easier to find the cuttlefish – remember they are masters of camouflage.
- A sand bed of 1/2 inch depth is fine. The cuttles will dig around in the sand, so a deep sand bed might be problematic.
- S. bandensis are often found among sea fans, but seem to do very well with hanging macro algae. You can hang your macros with a lettuce clip used to feed tangs and angels vegetable matter.
- Top off – over time the water in your tank will evaporate, and will need to be replaced. Note that the salt does NOT evaporate, so your top off water should be reverse osmosis water or reverse osmosis/deionized water heated to the temperature of the tank. How often you will need to top off your tank will depend on the rate of evaporation you experience.
- No copper! Copper will kill cuttlefish.
- Water changes – I recommend a 25 -50 percent water change once a month. The water should be reverse osmosis water or reverse osmosis/deionized water mixed with a good quality salt mix, heated and aerated to tank temperature for 24 hours before adding it to the tank.
Of course, a system with a sump would be fine as well. A sump is essentially another tank below the show tank, often kept inside the tank stand. Water drains from the show tank into the sump, and is then pumped back up into the show tank. Sumps do basically two things – they give your system a larger water volume which makes the system more stable and they give you a place to put equipment that may be unsightly, like your skimmer, heater or chiller. A 50 or 100 micron sock can also be added to the end of the tank drain for extra water filtration, but make sure to clean it at least once a week, if not more, so the detritus collecting in the sock don’t break down and cause water quality issues.
Keeping groups of S. bandensis: I have not experimented much with keeping groups of S. bandensis together. I have had so few animals, and I didn’t want to risk losing them to possible injuries from fighting. It may very well be the case that keeping groups, especially groups raised together, of S. bandensis in the same aquarium turns out to be a great way to keep them. It may also turn out that the fear of fighting is overrated. I think that as long as they are given a large enough tank that they should be fine, but I have no ideas as to what constitutes ‘large enough’. When the current babies I have are old enough, I plan on keeping a group of them in an undivided 100 gallon tank, so I should have more information in the near future.
Tank Mates for S. bandensis: Most fish, shrimp and crabs that are smaller than the cuttle will eventually become food…they will even eat mantis shrimp. Larger animals may distress the cuttle. In short, I would NOT recommend having fish and cuttles in the same tank. Snails, however, are completely safe in my experience.
Any kind of non-aggressive coral should be fine with cuttlefish. Anything that tends to sting should be avoided. Mushrooms, colt corals, ‘tree’ corals, clove polyps and green star polyps are all good choices for a cuttle tank. SPS corals may not be good choices for lighting reasons and water quality issues.
Feeding S. bandensis
Cuttlefish are predators eating mostly crustaceans and fish. It seems that motion triggers their amazing hunting response, so lots of people want to feed them live foods. This can be problematic because live food can be expensive, and even though cuttles will eat fish, they really are crustacean eaters. The most widely available live crustation for food is the ghost shrimp, which is good for a snack, but may not be the best everyday food.
There are several options to feeding your cuttlefish. Variety is always a good idea, as it covers more nutritional bases and keep the cuttle mind more active.
- Live saltwater crabs/shrimp collected locally. This is a great, inexpensive food source if collected from a clean area. I live near the SF Bay, and crabs are easy to collect, but I am now worried about the pollution levels being problematic for the cuttlefish, so I don’t use them as my primary food source. Also, remember not to feed crabs or shrimp that are bigger than the cuttle just because it is cool to watch the fight – prey has defensives and will often injure the predator. (Image 6)
- Live saltwater fish collected locally: See above – but remember that Crustaceans make up the bulk of cuttle diets in the wild, so a fish-only diet is not best. If you are interested in seeing what different species of cuttlefish eat in the wild, please see Cephalopod Prey in the Wild (http://www.cephbase.dal.ca/preydb/preydb.cfm). Even though there is not a lot on S. bandensis, the information may be informative.
- Live saltwater crabs/shrimp or fish for a live bait shop: Great if you can find ‘em, as long as they are collected from a clean area.
- Live saltwater fish from an LFS: Not the best option because this usually means damsels, which can be pretty aggressive and can even injure the cuttlefish – not to mention expensive. (Image 7)
- Live saltwater shrimp/crabs from the LFS: Great if you can afford them. They will almost always be expensive, but can be a good option in an emergency. Hermit crabs, like clean up crew hermits, aren’t the best idea because they are so small and can disappear into their shells – and the cuttlefish may ignore them completely.
- Live freshwater crabs/shrimp: It is questionable if freshwater animals make good food source for saltwater animals – there may be missing nutrients or may have incompatible amino acids. Otherwise, ghost shrimp are eaten with gusto by cuttlefish, as are small fiddler crabs or very small crawfish. The big drawback is if the cuttle doesn’t eat the animal, you now have a freshwater animal in a saltwater tank . . . which may die and pollute the water.
- Live freshwater fish: Guppies seem to be ok, but goldfish seem to cause indefinable problems. The big worry is that these animals are treated with copper or other chemicals that can be detrimental/disastrous to the health of the cuttlefish.
- Frozen Krill, fish, or other (but not cooked!): As a general staple, frozen krill from the LFS or fresh frozen, rinsed shrimp/non oily fish from your local grocery store are great. Make sure you thaw the food completely, and it is a good idea to supplement once in a while with live food. Please note that weaning your cuttles onto frozen food can be a challenge. The trick is to make the dead food look alive via a clear feeding stick or by having it ‘blow’ around in the current. Two wild-caught cuttles I currently have took to frozen food almost immediately with almost no work on my part, while other cuttles I have had would never even look at it.
- Ordering live food from the internet: Great but expensive due to overnight shipping costs, and you will need to set up a separate tank to keep them alive. Check out TONMO.com and ShrimpStuff.com.I suggest feeding cuttlefish at least once a day, and promptly remove any uneaten food from the aquarium. They will eat a lot more than once a day, but it does seem like it is possible to over feed them. Their metabolism is very fast, so I wouldn’t suggest not feeding them for more than a couple of days in a row. Cuttlefish floating near the surface may be a sign of starvation, so be on the lookout for this behavior.
Rearing S. Bandensis eggs
S. Bandensis eggs look like a cluster of 8-40 grapes, are dark purple to black in color (the outside of the egg is partially made of ink) and generally stay attached to each other even after they are removed from whatever they were attached to by the female cuttlefish. The eggs are pointy when laid, but as they mature, they swell, become round and eventually grow so transparent that you can watch the baby swim around inside. After 2-3 weeks, the baby cuttlefish emerge from the eggs ready to meet the world. Sometimes a yolk sack is still attached, however this is generally considered to be an effect of a premature hatching. Though tiny, they are perfect replicas of their parents and begin color changing almost immediately (and even while still in the egg!) (Image 8 and 9)
The cuttlefish are born as small as 4 mm (Image 10), but grow quickly, up to 1 cm in one month! I keep newly hatched S. Bandensis in net breeders so I can keep track of them and make sure they are all eating (I turn the net of the net breeder inside out so the extra material is on the outside of the net breeder so the babies don’t get caught in it). If the babies are kept in the main tank, they can easily get lost or sucked into a filter. I am also experimenting with keeping baby cuttlefish in display ‘cubes’ like you see in aquarium stores. I often keep up to 5 individuals in the same net breeder for several months, or until I begin to see fighting displays (Image 11). Then, I move them into sectioned off areas of the 100 gallon tank. I have tried keeping groups together for mating and tried keeping individual animals apart except for mating, and have had equal results in both cases, but will use a larger space for groups in the future.
If you have a cuttlefish that lays eggs, leave them where they are until they start to inflate. Then you can carefully remove them from whatever they have been laid on by removing the ‘stalk’ of the bunch of grapes from its point of attachment and move the eggs to a net breeder or other hatching container (avoid moving them close to hatching, because it can be stressful) (Image 12 and 13). It would be even safer for the eggs if you were able to move them by moving whatever it is that they are attached to, or you could suspend the eggs in the middle of the water column via monofilament or bent rigid airline tubing. Keep a gentle water flow over the eggs and remove any eggs that fail to mature. Make sure to cover any filter/pump intake with a filter sponge, or simply use an airpump for water motion.
Eggs come with their own set of pros and cons. The pros are big – the eggs ship well and take up little space, and allow you to know the exact age of your cuttles. However, the major con is massive – feeding the babies. Baby S. bandensis may not eat for 2 or 3 days after hatching, but once they get started, they eat an amazing amount of food, and the food has to be the right size. Live mysid shrimp make the perfect food, but you need lots of them, and to make matters worse, mysids are cannibalistic so you have to keep them in a large enough container and feed them enough so they won’t eat each other.
If you are lucky enough to be able to collect your own, or live near some place that cultures them and will sell them to you, or decide to (shudder) culture your own, you win. Otherwise you will need to have them shipped to you overnight and incur those expenses. When I shipped in live food, I was very happy with www.mysidshrimp.com, a division of Reed Mariculture.
If you live near the coast, you can also collect amphipods (Gammarus spp) for baby cuttlefish food, which is actually pretty easy. I prefer to go to a gravelly area that gets exposed at low tide, find a rock about the size of a dinner plate, flip it over and scoop the revealed gravel into a bucket with some tank water. When I get home, I drop a net in the bucket. The pods tend to cling to it and voila… easy baby feeding. (Image 14 and 15)
UK S. bandensis keeper Mike Irving collects mysid shrimp for his baby cuttlefish: “In coastal areas you may find that you have mysids living. Usually they are more abundant in tidal areas, or where fresh water run-off meets salt water. Mysids live at the sand surface, so in order to collect them, you should take a fine net (sized so that is will let silt through but not the mysids) and run it along the surface of the sand/sediment. As you net disturbs the mysids and sweeps through the water, you will catch the mysids.
A word of warning – when you collect mysids yourself, first make sure that the water is unpolluted (however the presence of them can sometimes indicate so, and that you do not collect too many. When transporting them from coast to home, if you over collect for your transportation receptacle (bucket!) they mysids use up oxygen fast, and you can end up with a bunch of dead shrimp. Collect light and aerate with a tube if you can – even better buy a battery operated air pump.”
Baby fish can also be an option (octopets.com sells baby saltwater guppies). Some people will use enriched small brine shrimp but only in a pinch – it is thought that long term, brine are not an adequate cuttlefish food.
Another thing to try is to wean them onto frozen mysids. Put cuttlefish in a small tank, cube or net breeder with enough circulation to keep the thawed mysids moving and after a few days the babies should start eating them.
Warning: It is not known how well S. bandensis can do with a diet of only saltwater guppies, enriched brine shrimp, or frozen mysids. A varied diet of other live foods seems to give the best chance of survival.
Breeding S. bandensis
I have had limited success breeding S. bandensis – mainly through trying to keep breeding groups or pairs in hobby sized tanks. I get lots of mating, but have lost the parents before egg laying for reasons I believe may include fighting due to limited space, separated cuttles injuring themselves trying to get to each other through dividers, or slow poisoning via live foods collected from the SF bay.
Cuttlefish breed by coupling head to head, and the male packet of sperm called a spermatophore, is deposited into a pouch in the female’s mantle (Image 16) The mating can last from 10 seconds to many minutes, and in some species, males will use their funnel to flush other male’s sperm out the females pouch.6 Females can lay several clutches of eggs, and can live for months after egg laying.
Even though cuttlefish can tell each others sex on sight, it is very difficult for humans to accurately sex them if you don’t actually see them breeding. In general, S. bandensis males tend to adopt high contrast black and white patterns when faced with another male while females tend to keep the more relaxed mottled colors that a resting cuttlefish adopts. However, males sometimes display like females and females sometimes display like males, so introducing S. bandensis that don’t know each other should be done with care.
The method of introduction and sexing that I am using developed with much help from Chris Maupin. So far, while not perfect, it seems to be effective. I built movable partitions in a 100 gallon tank, each with a removable door that can be either be transparent or opaque.(Image 17) To try to sex the cuttles, I put in the transparent door to see how they react to each other. Hopefully, those reactions will allow me to determine the sex of the animals. James Wood suggests holding a mirror up to the tank, but I haven’t tried this method of sexing yet.
When I think I have a male and a female, I remove the door and watch as the two cuttles face off. Males and females will mate pretty much immediately, while two males will display and fight (Image 11). After breeding, I separate the two to prevent fighting. If the pair ends up being two males, I separate them as quickly as possible.
The first pair I successfully bred produced one clutch of eggs using this method. The next cuttles I raised were all male. The third attempt seemed successful, and the pair mated like crazy, when disaster struck. The two lovesick cuttles were so eager to get some “unsupervised” time together, that they attempted to mate through the mesh of the tank dividers. Both animals were injured, and died shortly thereafter.
I have also kept groups of cuttles together to see if they would pair off or mate without intervention, but have had little success, mostly due to apparent fighting. It is probable that the space I gave these groups was simply too small.
When the babies I currently have are old enough, I will modify my procedure. The modifications I’m considering are: using different dividers, leaving an empty space between divided cuttles to prevent them trying to reach each other, and using a much larger tank/tub as an environment for small group to live in. I suspect that S. bandensis would be easy to breed with a group of 10 or so as long as they were in a 300 gallon tub with plenty of macro algae for hiding.
Cuttlefish are fantastic animals, and I am still amazed that I have them in my home. I hope that as more people begin to keep and breed them that they will become a captive bred staple in the aquarium hobby. I also hope that you have found this article helpful, and that your interest in keeping and breeding cuttlefish has grown. If you have any information on keeping or breedingSepia bandensis, or if you have found any errors in this article, please contact me because to make captive bred bandensis readily available we need to pool our information.
My efforts with Sepia bandensis would not have been possible without the generous help of Bob Mendelsohn, Chris Maupin, Colin Dunlop, Mike Irving, Dr, James Wood, both the RDO and TONMO.com online communities and the information compiled by Dr. James Wood on The Cephalapod Page and Cephbase. I also need to thank my wife Libby for allowing the absurdity of attempting to breed cuttlefish in a house and for her immeasurable help in writing this article.
The Cephalopod Page – http://www.thecephalopodpage.org/cuttle1.html
The Octopus News Magazine Online - www.TONMO.com
CephBase - http://www.cephbase.utmb.edu/
Mike Irvings www.CephsUK.co.uk
General) Norman, Mark (2000), ‘Cephalopods a world guide’, ConchBooks PP 1-92
3) Norman, Mark (2000), ‘Cephalopods a world guide’. ConchBooks : pp.82
4) Private correspondence referring to the following paper: Wood J.B. and R.K. O’Dor (2000). Do larger cephalopods live longer? Effects of temperature and phylogeny on interspecific comparisons of age and size at maturity. Marine Biology. 136 (1) : pp.91
5)Lights of America Fixtures - http://www.lightsofamerica.com/Product%20Categories/Security%20Fixtures.aspx
6)Norman, Mark (2000), ‘Cephalopods a world guide’. ConchBooks : pp.42