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Cephalopod Tattoos

By Tony Morelli

The TONMO Image Gallery contains dozens of images of cephalopod tattoos, broken down into three categories: octopus, cuttlefish, and squid. Cephalopod tattoos are one of the most popular subjects on TONMO -- our gallery has millions of views, and I frequently receive inquiries from people looking for ideas on ceph tattoos, or references for tattoo artists and images.

As TONMOers know, there's a society of people who have a passion for these animals. To explore the cephalopod tattoo subject further, I emailed a survey (and later posted it) to people who shared their tattoo images by posting them our gallery. While our sample size for this survey is small (we received 16 responses), we did get some good learnings. Clearly, tattoos are a personal choice, and individuality is the hallmark of a tattoo. So if you're one of those people looking to get inked by a tattoo gun as opposed to an octopus or squid, hopefully you'll find this summary helpful. Here's what I found:

thale's tattoo
Thales' “squid / cuttlefish combo” tattoo

First, while several respondents admitted that their tattoos did not turn out they way they originally envisioned, almost everyone is "very happy" with their finished tattoos -- with one exception saying they were only "somewhat happy" with the finished product. In fact, several respondents went out of their way to comment that they LOVE their tattoos.

Ten out of 16 respondents got an octopus for their tattoo, while the others got a cuttlefish, squid, or some nondescript, hybrid ceph-like creature (but we did not have any Cthulhu tattoos!)... It is not surprising that octopuses are the most popular tattoos; even as a general topic of interest on this Website, I'd say octopuses are the most popular, probably due to the fact that unlike squid, you can keep an octopus in a home aquarium! At the same time, our highest traffic days on TONMO.com have come when there have been news stories about large/giant squid, such as 2003's announcement that Mesonychoteuthis (Colossal Squid) is even larger and more imposing than the Architeuthis (Giant Squid). As for cuttlefish, while you can keep them in a home saltwater tank, they are harder to come by in the United States -- and for whatever reasons, cuttlefish just aren't as “culturally mainstream” as octopus and squid. Still, there were two cuttlefish tattoos of the 16 respondents, not including the “squid / cuttlefish combo” tattoo (pictured above), owned by Thales, a longtime TONMO.com Supporter.

The most popular location for a cephalopod tattoo is the lower back, with four (25%) tattoos residing there. The left arm was a close second (3), followed by a 3-way tie for right arm, left leg, and upper back (2 each).

As far as pricing goes, our tattooed friends paid as little as FREE, and has much as $6,000 for their tattoos. Seven of our 16 respondents paid less than $250 for their tattoo.

Why do people get cephalopod tattoos?

So why do people choose to get a cephalopod tattoo over something different? Here is some of the insight provided by our responders. It's interesting to note the prevailing observation that cephalopods are so "alien"-like.
  • When I was a kid my uncle took me scuba diving, and I held a small octopus on that arm [where I got my tattoo]. It was such an amazing experience...

  • I'm a scuba instructor, and they're my favorite...

  • my favorite animal since i was a kid

  • Cephalopods are my favorite creatures on the planet. They are not only highly intelligent and full of personality, but they are both entirely alien looking (compared to all other animals) and adorable at the same time.

  • I've been volunteering at the same aquarium for 4 years. I've always been interested in marine life ever since I was little and I've always wanted to study marine biology. For many years my favorite animal was the typical dolphins or whales until the first day we got cuttlefish into the aquarium. I fell in love with them immediately! They're just so cute and so incredibly smart! I got the tattoo because it represents how the aquarium has helped me change for the better over the years (just like a cuttlefish can change!)... The experience has helped me to become a more outgoing person and has cemented my desire to pursue a career in marine science. I've been wanting a cuttlefish tattoo for years and finally got one!

  • I like cephs a lot, and have devoted a lot of time to them. More importantly, I found an image of a ceph that resonated with me, and seemed to reflect other aspects of my life besides cephs.

  • My tattoos are primarily marine invertebrates - jellyfish (chrysaora isosceles), blue ring octo, brush painting of a squid, and a starfish. There is one vertebrate, a seahorse.

  • I have always been fascinated about how out of this world octopuses look; they truly look like something of an alien being.  A great life form, very intelligent also.

  • ...you can't really sail to French Polynesia and not get a tattoo, so i got one of an octopus...

  • I love cephalopods - the last (known) living sea monsters, intelliegent, and alien to us - but given that most of the earth's surface is covered by oceans, they're probably more abundant than even all 6 billion of us. Their colors and elegance of motion make them living art (to me, anyway).

  • 'cuz they're just so gosh darn squidly!

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    So there you have it... 16 cephalopod tattoos, and no regrets -- mostly joy! Another thing I found when analyzing all these tattoos and the survey responses is that there are a couple of different ways to go about getting one. For example, some prospective tattoo owners go up to their tattoo artist with a picture in-hand, and say “tattoo this image on me”. Others say, “I want a squid tattoo -- it should have realistic features; not mean or happy or cartoony -- but would like an expression of thoughtfulness if possible”. The TONMO.com Image Gallery has proven to be a popular harvesting ground for tattoo ideas -- and not just the tattoo sections.

    Make sure you have a good relationship with your tattoo artist before getting it done. Obviously you want to make sure you see samples of his or her work, so you have a good idea as to the style and quality of the tattoo you're about to get. Don't be afraid to ask questions, or ask for referrals. Tattoos are permanent, so make sure you planned it out! Giving your professional tattooer creative freedom may have its advantages, but again, make sure you really have a good understanding of his or her body of work. Heh! “Body” of work! Get it? ...kinda?

    Anyway... I've been asked if I have a tattoo -- I do not. If I were to get one, it would probably have to be two... an octopus and a squid, for balance!

    Tony Morelli
    November 2006

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