Care and Concerns

Discussion in 'Octopus Care' started by davelin315, Mar 3, 2010.

  1. davelin315

    davelin315 Wonderpus Registered

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    Given my recent questions about octopus care I thought it would be good to put these into a single thread. This is not species specific, but rather just general care and troubleshooting for the newly acquired octopus. I am not an expert and these are my own observations along with information gathered from various internet resources and the people on here, so feel free to add to it and correct me if you feel I've misstated something.

    What to look for in a new octopus

    When selecting an octopus, appearance can mean a lot. If an octopus looks unhealthy, it probably is. Even a stressed out octopus can still look healthy, so here are some suggestions for what to look for.

    Coloration: A healthy octopus should exhibit colors that it normally would. This is certainly not the only indicator of health, as a dying octopus can exhibit coloration and even a dead octopus can still exhibit color changes, but you certainly don't want to buy an octopus that is simply white and has no color at all. A healthy octopus should be able to change colors rapidly according to mood and also should be able to blend in with its surroundings. If it's discolored and lacking any pigmentation, this could be a sign that it is on its deathbed.

    Texture: Octopuses can change their appearance by more than just their coloration. A healthy octopus should be able to change the texture of its skin, typically at least in the mantle. If upon observation it is consistently smooth and the typical species exhibits lots of texture to its skin, then it may have lost control over the ability to texturize itself. This should definitely not be considered as the only way of telling health, however, as an octopus may simply not want to exhibit any texture or it may be one that typically does not. A good example of an octopus that does not normally exhibit any texture is one that lives in muddy or sandy bottoms. These will match the texture of the environment they are naturally occurring in.

    "Body Control": An octopus has one of the most advanced nervous systems out there for invertebrates and also has an extraordinary level of control over its various body parts. This goes beyond simple textures on their bodies and includes the ability to manipulate individual body parts from their arms to their eyes to their mantles. This is probably best off listed by body part.
    • Arms: What can be misleading about an octopus' health is that the arms have so many nerves in them that the arms can almost take on a life of their own. That said, a healthy octopus will have enough control over its arms that they are active from tip to webbing. The arms should have fairly uniform coloration from tip to base and the suckers should all be able to grasp. If the arm does not respond to stimulus or is unable to grab onto something, then that's a sign that the arm is not working properly. Look for an octopus to respond to a feeding stick by extending an arm up the stick and grabbing onto it to examine it. An arm that waves loosely in the water is a sign of an unhealthy arm or worse, an unhealthy octopus. Even if the octopus is responsive and the arms can move around, if they are corkscrewed at the ends, this is a sign of an unhealthy octopus, perhaps one that is close to death. Look for signs of the octopus curling its arms and extending them to examine things.
    • Eyes: An octopus has an incredible amount of control over its eyes. This can be anything from extending or retracting the eyes to the responsiveness of the eye itself to light. If an octopus has uneven eyes, this may be a sign that you need to investigate more. It's not that it they cannot extend their eyes unevenly, which they can, but if the eyes are simply uneven for no reason, then that could be a sign of a loss of control. Likewise, the pupils of an octopus' eyes should respond to light. If the octopus is sitting in the dark and the pupils are completely closed up, this is a sign that it has lost control over them. If an octopus' pupils are wide open in the brightest light, that's the same warning signal. Also, make sure you can actually see the octopus' eyes themselves. If they are completely hidden all of the time, that's not a good sign.
    • Mantle: The mantle of an octopus contains all of its important body parts and organs. If an octopus has a mantle that droops to the side or is extremely uneven, that's probably another sign that it's unhealthy. The mantle itself should be expanding and contracting regularly as the octopus draws in water through its incurrent siphons (a.k.a. gill slits) and then releases it through its siphon. If one or both of the incurrent siphons are not closing properly, then the octopus is not breathing properly either. If the mantle is constantly deflated and appears to be more like a puddle than a muscle, then it's a good indicator that the octopus is not healthy.
    • Webbing: If the octopus is supposed to have webbing between its arms, make sure that it's there... I don't have an octopus with extensive webbing so can't say whether it uses this a lot or not!

    Behavior: An octopus should act like an octopus! If it is just sitting there or it gets blown around by the current in the tank, then it's probably not healthy. Look for reactions, proper breathing, and one that will eat in the store! If it has just arrived, don't expect it to eat, but if it's had a couple of days in the store then it should be eating. Just because an octopus grabs onto something does not mean that it's eating. Make sure that it grabs it and brings it to its mouth. It should also cup its arms around it and surround the food with whatever webbing it has. If it just sits on it, then it's probably not eating it. One sign of eating is an octopus which raises its body up a bit and the base of the arms goes down around the food so that the suckers can all grab onto the food so it gives the appearance of squeezing the food. As mentioned above, also look for reactions to stimulus and healthy breathing. Also, an octopus which is sitting out in the open is possibly not very healthy. Their natural behavior is to hide unless there's a reason to be out so if it's just sitting there and is unresponsive, it's either been tipping back the bottle or it's not healthy. If it is sitting there and you poke it with a stick and it starts to writhe, shoot ink, and display coloration and body texture before fleeing, then it's probably healthy and had a reason for sitting there. Speaking of inking, if an octopus cannot ink at all, that's a sign that it's probably either too exhausted to ink or that it has used up all of its ink. If it's randomly inking in the tank, that's probably not a good sign either...

    How to Transport and Acclimate an Octopus

    One common reason for the failure of an octopus to survive is a problem encountered during transport. This can be from the shipping from the ocean to the wholesaler, from the wholesaler to the retailer, or from the retailer to your own home. You have no control over how the octopus is transported up until the point in time when it is transported to your home, so make sure to take precautions over how you handle it. Also, make sure that where you get it from has done whatever they can to properly acclimate it. If it's a temperate species and it's being kept in warmer conditions, that's something to be careful of as it may already have suffered enough damage to not make it. Anyway, here are some tips for making sure that the octopus is properly transported.

    • At a minimum, double bag it and make sure that there is a blackout bag or at least some newspaper blocking out the light from getting into the bag. Also, make sure there's enough water in the bag just in case it does ink. If they're willing, you may even want to put something into the bag for it to hide in, just make sure it's not sharp or rough on the edges so it won't damage the octopus in transit.
    • Control the temperature! Make sure to maintain the temperature as much as possible. If the octopus goes through too much temperature change then it may damage it.
    • When you get it home, acclimate as slowly as possible. You may want to transfer it into something that it cannot chew through. Drip acclimation would be best, but make sure that whatever you put it in that it doesn't crawl out.
    • When it's ready to go into the tank, it will probably crawl out, so make sure that it's able to crawl out without being harassed by other tank inhabitants (if any) and that it's able to do so safely.
    • If the temperature of your system and the temperature of where the octopus was being kept is more than a couple of degrees, don't force the issue. You do not want to temperature acclimate more than a couple of days per day, so you may want to adjust your tank temperature before adding the octopus (better yet, change the temperature of your tank to match the tank at the store before bringing the octopus home - this will also give you a chance to watch it in the store and make sure that it's healthy).
     
  2. davelin315

    davelin315 Wonderpus Registered

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    Danger Signs Now That It's In Your Tank

    There are some signs to watch for once you have it at home that indicate that it's not healthy or that it's not going to make it. I wish that I had some solutions to these issues, but I don't. There have been some that have successfully treated unhealthy octopuses with medication, but I have not done so myself so can't speak from experience about what to do other than try and get the octopus to eat and maintain its health. In addition to the signs to look for in the store, look for the following:

    • Sloughing Flesh: Although an octopus will shed its suckers, losing flesh is not a good sign. An octopus that is not doing well may begin to lose flesh in chunks or it may begin to go through autophagy, where the cells eat themselves from within. These two conditions can be due to a number of different factors, from bacterial infections to lack of nutrition to unknown reasons, but the recognition that something is not right is at least an indication that alternative measures need to be taken.

    Again, feel free to add anything that you feel is needed or to correct any of my observations.
     
  3. monty

    monty Colossal Squid Staff Member Supporter

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    Thanks for putting this together, it seems to cover a lot of useful cues about octopus health. Perhaps we can incorporate some observations from other octo keepers, and then make this into an article.

    One thing I notice that's missing from "Danger Signs" is the corkscrewed arms look which we've learned to recognize as a sign of something seriously wrong in octos.
     
  4. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    Point of clarity. Dave is referring to the two gill slits that open and close to pass water over the gills and not the single (excurrent) siphon that we commonly refer to as just the siphon. (I learn something new everyday :grin:).
     
  5. davelin315

    davelin315 Wonderpus Registered

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    I definitely hope others will add to this as I feel like I have gained a lot of knowledge over the past few weeks about what to look for. I figure that most have not lost 4 octopuses over a 2 week period like I have with this project, but that others have watched the decline in their longer kept octopuses and so are probably pretty knowledgeable about what to look for.

    I referenced it very quickly in the What to Look for in a Healthy Octopus section and then didn't repeat it again in danger signs (got lazy and just said look above!).

    Corrected the "incurrent siphons" to gill slits! Didn't know that that's what they were! I was using the only thing I could think of that had a siphon as well, a tridacnid clam, so pulled the nomenclature from them!
     
  6. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    Dave, incurrent is likely more correct than my laymens' version but my first thought was that you were suggesting two siphons (we have never differentiated). I looked up your terms and suspect the usage is (and should be reversed to the original) correct but I know most people won't look up incurrent siphon and wanted to clarify that it is a term we don't see, not that it is incorrect.
     
  7. davelin315

    davelin315 Wonderpus Registered

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    Also added the following, not sure if these are correct or not - basing some of this on what I saw myself with the only octopuses which bore marks on their mantles being the healthy ones and the arms curled up with suckers out being based on pictures and videos I have seen of others' healthy octopuses.

    Looks Can Be Deceptive - It's Really Not That Bad

    You may also come across an octopus which seems like it's in dire straits, but is in reality not in much danger. Octopuses can display some injuries that are really not all that bad if the octoups is in good overall health and is in a healthy environment.

    One of these indicators may be the loss of an arm. If an octopus is biting its own arms off then that's a problem, but it's not uncommon for an octopus to be missing an arm as many octopuses lose arms during capture due to traps or other damage. Octopuses can regenerate a lost arm if the arm is lost due to injury and the arm remains healthy. You may see a tiny little bud of an arm regrowing from the remaining portion of the arm and this is perfectly fine.

    Another observation that may seem to be a problem is marks all over the mantle. A healthy octopus can "groom" itself and in doing so may leave small marks, almost like a hickey, on their own mantles from their suction cups. This is not an issue, although if the octopus is literally tearing itself apart, that's a different story.

    With the arms, as well, if they are positioned in such a way that the suckers are facing out away from the body, it may look like the tiny baby octopus that they sell to eat in the grocery stores, but this is not by itself any indication of ill health. Many healthy octopuses will allow the bottom of their arms where the suckers are to face out instead of tucking them in, wrapping their arms up around their mantle instead of sprawling out.
     
  8. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    Interesting observation with the mantle marks. I have not seen (or at least noticed) this with any of the ones I have kept and I don't recall anyone else mentioning it. Hopefully Steve, Jean, Roy and/or Mucktopus (TONMO academics with tons of in situ, lab and publishing to their credit) will comment.
     
  9. davelin315

    davelin315 Wonderpus Registered

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    OK, changed it back to "incurrent siphons (aka gill slits)" so that hopefully everone will understand!

    It's funny, so much is observation based and each species may act so differently. The first time I noticed this was when I was looking at them for any markings that might distinguish them from other species. I thought at first that these were circular markings/patterns to their skin but then realized that they were from their suckers themselves. Perhaps they are nothing more than silt that has gathered on their mantles where the suckers were? I'm not sure, but maybe others will notice something like this. I figured out that's what they were when you posted the video of the octopus grooming itself in agitation.
     
  10. CaptFish

    CaptFish Colossal Squid Staff Member Moderator

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    Perhaps they are scars from mating or fighting.
     
  11. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    Given the environment, I think you may have a good answer CaptFish.
     
  12. davelin315

    davelin315 Wonderpus Registered

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    Good point, but I think that for these guys, the ones that displayed this were the ones that were grooming themselves. Perhaps aggressive grooming resulted in self mutiliation? I'll take a closer look at the store tonight to see if any of them display it there and then observe whichever one I buy to see if it has these marks, too, once it gets home and has a chance to get healthier.
     
  13. Lmecher

    Lmecher Larger Pacific Striped Octopus Registered

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    I have experienced two losses one never positively identified but best guess I got was Abdopus aculeatus. I had him for a week. He had been strictly nocturnal until the last day. He displayed a very light mottled grey color, the skin looked as if it would slough off if touched. He had obvoulsy lost control of his arms as they were cork screwed. Mantel didn't seem floppy but he had a difficult time keeping his head upright, it tilted to the side. He displays several of the characteristics mentioned as warning signs. Here is a photo just before death.

    [​IMG]
     
  14. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    Linda, that is definitely the "grey" look I refer to that occurs very shortly before death and a great example shot.
     

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