Midnight tank escapes- fact or fiction?

Discussion in 'Tank Talk' started by mucktopus, Nov 27, 2013.

  1. mucktopus

    mucktopus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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    Everywhere I go I seem to hear a different story about someone's octopus that got out in the middle of the night, crawled into a different tank (next to it, across the room, sometime it's even in another room), and then went back to its own tank after eating. Almost invariably these stories end with someone setting up a camera and catching the octopus in the act. I've been hearing these stories for over 15 years, back when no one had the ability to leave a camera system running on record all night without getting up to change tapes. Has anyone actually confirmed this observation? Has anyone actually seen any of this on video from a reputable (i.e. not staged) source? Did this ever happen to anyone here in this forum?

    Just trying to track down the original observation(s) that sparked this urban legend.
     
  2. Stavros

    Stavros GPO Registered

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    You should look into Henry Lee's "Aquarium Notes: the octopus or the "devil-fish" of fiction and of fact."

    I believe this is the earliest version of the story.

    Here it goes:

    "CHAPTER V. THE OCTOPUS OUT OF WATER.

    Until by the establishment of aquaria opportunities were furnished of observing the habits of the octopus in captivity, very little was known as to the truth or otherwise of the statement that it would sometimes voluntarily leave the water, and ramble on land in search of food. Professor Edward Forbes* says that, in the sudden falls, lasting not very long, of the sea-level, which occur from various causes in the bays of the countries in and around the JEgean, this creature may be met with walking on the exposed shore ; but he thinks it doubtful whether it ever wanders of its own choice above the usual water-mark.

    Aristotle affirms that it comes out of the sea and walks in stony places ; and Pliny tells of an enormous polypus (octopus) which at Carteia, in Grenada — an old and important Roman colony, near Gibraltar — used to come out of the sea at night, and carry off or devour salted tunnies from the curing depots on the shore ; and adds that the head of it, when it was at last killed, was found to weigh 7oolb. ^Elian records a similar incident, and describes his monster as crushing in its arms the barrels of salt fish to get at the contents. These old writers seem to have aimed rather at making their histories sensational than at carefully investigating the credibility or the contrary of the highly-coloured reports brought to them. They were, of course, gross exaggerations; but there is a substratum of truth in them ; and in the proceedings of an octopus in the Brighton Aquarium we may recognise the living model of the bold, broad sketches from nature from which the old artists fancifully drew their showy but untruthful pictures.

    In May, 1873, it was found that some young lump-fish (Cyclop- terus lumpus, were mysteriously disappearing from one of the tanks. Almost daily there was a fresh and inexplicable vacancy in the gradually diminishing family circle, and morning after morning a handbill might have been issued : — " Missing ! Lost, stolen, or strayed, a young ' lump-sucker,' rather below the middle size, and enormously stout ; had on a bright blue coat, with several rows of buttons on it, and a waistcoat of lighter colour. Whoever will give such information as shall lead to the discovery of the same, or produce satisfactory evidence of his death, will relieve the troubled minds of the curators ! " " What on earth can have become of them?" "Where can they be?" were the questions each attendant asked in vain of another. If they had died they would have been found in the tank, for there were no crabs there that could have eaten them ; they could not have burrowed in the shingle, for it was not deep enough ; and, with their obesity of form, they could no more have leaped out of the tank than Mr. Wardell's fat boy in " Pickwick " could have jumped a five- barred gate. Here was a puzzle ! One by one they were lost to sight, as regularly and unaccountably as pair after pair of Lieu tenant Charles Seaforth's breeches disappeared from his bedroom at Tappington, as related in the " Ingoldsby Legends."

    One morning, however, Mr. Lawler, one of the staff, on going to count our young friends, found an interloper amongst them. "Who put this octopus in No. 27 tank?" he inquired of the keepers. " Octopus, sir ? no one ! Well, if he ain't bin and got over out of the next tank ! " And this was just the fact. The marauding rascal had occasionally issued from the water in his tank, and clambered up the rocks, and over the wall into the next one ; there he had helped himself to a young lump-fish, and, having devoured it, returned demurely to his own quarters by the same route, with well-filled stomach and contented mind.

    This was not very difficult for him to accomplish, for the partition between the two tanks is only about a foot above the surface of the water. Having accidentally, or otherwise, discovered that there was a preserve of live stock suitable to his palate next door, he paid frequent nocturnal poaching visits to it, and, after clearing up every remnant of his meal, regularly slunk home before day light ; until, like most criminals, becoming careless by frequently escaping detection, he, on the last occasion, indulged at supper- time in an inordinate gorge, and slept under his neighbour's porch, instead of going home to bed.

    His return homeward at daybreak was caused by no intelligent fear of his keeper, but by a perfectly natural instinct inherited from his ancestors, namely, that of retiring during the day to his own favourite den or lurking-place, as an ogre is supposed to ensconce himself in his castle or cavern after having satiated his rapacious maw in a successful foray. For it must be remembered that the octopus is nocturnal in its habits, and ordinarily hides itself as much as possible during the day, shrinking from the light, which is apparently disagreeable to it : its wanderings in search of food, therefore, generally take place at night.* * A few days after the publication in Land and Water of my account of this occurrence, the following lines appeared in Fun. They were written by its editor, poor dear Tom Hood, who loved all animals — birds, beasts, and fishes — and delighted in conversing with me about those under my care : (see below)


    Although I had once seen the octopus in question crawl out of the water on to the rocks above the surface in the daytime, and had often witnessed his activity during the dark hours, and the surprising rapidity of his progress by crawling or walking, he had not been seen to do all of which he was accused. Every opportunity was, therefore, given to him of continuing his incur sions into his neighbours' compartment, and it was hoped that he would be caught in the act. So acute, however, are these creatures in their perceptions, so quick of sight, and so sensitive to the light of even a distant lantern, that our suspected pirate would not start on a buccaneering expedition whilst anyone was cruising in the building. He seemed to know that he was watched ;
    and for about a week remained quietly at home. During that time no more young lump-suckers were missing. Then he again broke bounds, and, moreover, prevailed on one of his class-mates to follow his bad example of going out on the loose.

    One night these two individuals left their tank, and started in opposite directions on a voyage of discovery. One went east, the other went west ; and, as if by preconcerted plan, neither was content merely to cross the frontier and visit his nearest neigh bours, but both passed through, or over, one intervening tank, and settled down amongst the tribes beyond. One of them found himself in a Brobdingnag of crabs — a colony of giants too strong to be successfully invaded even by an armada of octopods. If he had arrived at Lilliput instead — a tank inhabited by pigmy crus taceans — he would soon have depopulated it, by clutching in his hateful embrace more victims per diem than ever an unwelcome, foul-mouthed dragon of old demanded as his daily dole of youths and maidens, to satisfy his inconvenient preference for their flesh as his daintiest dish. The other traveller found his way into Lobsterdom, and putting on a bold front, proceeded to attack the chief. The lobster, though evidently alarmed, "showed fight," and the intruder was obliged to retreat, and seek refuge in a cranny of the rock-work. Although the lobster which bore the brunt of the attack was a very large one, I was at the time sur prised that it so decisively vanquished the invader as to save from destruction the other smaller specimens of its kind, which were its companions. For it is an old notion, still generally believed by fishermen, that if an octopus approaches a " pot," or " stalker," in which are lobsters that have been entrapped, they will cast off their claws, and become literally sick from fright.

    — THE STRAYING 'TOPUS. A LEGEND OF THE BRIGHTON AQUARIUM.

    Have you heard of the Octopus —
    'Topus of the feelers eight —
    How he left his tank o'po'pus
    Lump-fish to disintegrate ?

    To the lump-fish tank, as sprightly
    As the Brighton, coach, he'd ride ;
    For two passengers he nightly
    Found convenient room inside.

    On his feelers, long and curly,
    Homeward then he gently strode ;
    And you'd have to get up early
    To perceive him on the road.

    But it happened Mr. Lawler,
    Whom the lump-fish ought to thank,
    Caught this very early caller,
    " Dropt-in" on his neighbours' tank !

    For some weeks the world lump-fishious
    Very strangely vanished had ;
    — So the visit was suspicious,
    And appearances were bad !

    Well for him, this brigand larky
    Was not brought before J. P.
    (Neither clergy, nor squire-archy) -
    But to Mr. Henry Lee. Said he,

    " Punish on suspicion, Is a thing I never will
    — Catch him in the same position ;
    Then I'll send him to the mill !
    " Treadmill is a wear-and-tear case,

    And Octopus would, you see,
    Do four men upon a staircase —
    Law, how tired the beast would be"
     
  3. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    This is our latest report of an escape and return (food jar was next to tank and it took the jar, how far out of the tank it would have had to go is not mentioned). I have asked him to attempt to set up the situation again with a video running.

    Jean has observed them to escape and enter other tanks but not return. She mentions believing in the returns though in this old thread

    I found a new write up on Sid and a mention of Harry (two of Jean's aquarium's animals) here but neither voluntarily returned to their home tank.
     
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2013
  4. Mot Reyd

    Mot Reyd Cuttlefish Registered

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    The jar was only sitting on the rim of the tank , sorry i didn't mention it at the time, not as impressive now
     
  5. Jean

    Jean Colossal Squid Supporter

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    Fact! We have sooooooo many tales and records of ours escaping although not across the room, the furtherest was one who made it halfway up some stairs, say 50m or so!
     
  6. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    Still impressive Mot, and suggests bringing things back to the den. I suspect returning to a specific den (vs hiding in any port in a storm) may vary from species to species and possibly be influenced by the environment where they are raised.

    @Jean, but do you have any instances of them returning to their home tank. The stories I recall were mostly escapes or animals found in the tanks they were scavenging.
     
  7. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    The night after I wrote the above reply, Onn gave me a nice video example of returning to his den to eat. It is NOT an example of a tank escape but he is very familiar with his tank and chose to return to his normal den with his booty vs picking a random or nearby secure place to eat it.
     
  8. mucktopus

    mucktopus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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    Thanks for all this sleuthing! This is great and now I'm much better informed. Certain octopuses definitely go out of water in the wild, across tidepools. One A. aculeatus I had made it out of the tank, across a wooden deck, and down a flight of stairs to the ocean. And in the wild some species bring food back to the den to eat- so those aspects fit with their natural behavior. But I'd always wondered why an octopus would leave a tank of food after going through so much effort to get there. It's interesting to hear more specific stories about animals doing this/similar in Tonmo aquaria. I'm so excited to learn about the original reference to this behavior! Thanks again!!!
     
  9. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    I wish someone would do an experiment with this but it has only curiosity value (video would probably go viral though) :grin:.
     
  10. mucktopus

    mucktopus Haliphron Atlanticus Staff Member Moderator

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  11. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    From the PDF above:

    Mean Escape Factors Reported From Survey Respondents for Octopuses Kept in Captivity and Seen Leaving the Water in the Wild
    Species M (Escape Value) SD N(umber)
    1 Enteroctopus dofleini 6.3 2.2 12
    2 Octopus vulgaris 8.5 1.2 10
    3 Octopus rubescens 5.1 2.4 9
    4 Octopus bimaculoides 3.0 1.3 6
    5 O. “joubini” (large egged) 5.5 3.1 4
    6 Hapalochlaena lunulata 1.7 0.6 3
    7 Octopus bimaculatus 4.0 1.7 3
    8 Octopus digueti 6.0 4.6 3
    9 Eledone moschata 2.5 2
    10 Octopus californicus 1.0 2
    11 Octopus cyanea 5. 5 2
    12 Bathypolypus arcticus 3.0 1
    13 Eledone cirrhosa 4.0 1
    14 Grimpoteuthis sp. 1.0 1
    15 Japetella diaphana 1.0 1
    16 Octopus areolatus 3.0 1
    17 Octopus bocki 4.0 1
    18 Octopus briarieus 8.0 1
    19 Octopus fitchi 7.0 1
    20 Octopus hongkongensis 2.0 1
    21 Octopus macropus 2.0 1
    22 Octopus micropyrsus 7.0 1
    23 Octopus tetricus 5.0 1
    24 Octopus wolfi 6.0 1
    25 Opisthoteuthis californiana 1.0 1

    Note. Factors are given on a scale ranging from 1 (low tendency to escape) to 10 (high tendency to
    escape).
     
  12. DWhatley

    DWhatley Cthulhu Staff Member Moderator

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    Not at all what you are looking for but a very good BBC podcast drama that brings in many of the escape legends, myths, rules of scientific study, public aquarium vs scientist outlook on experimental animals and just kind of fun that they would make the 45 minute show. Search on the page for The Octopus
     
  13. Jean

    Jean Colossal Squid Supporter

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    Yep, The crayfish (spiny rock lobsters) were disappearing night after night, octopus was always in his tank at the 10.30pm check.......mystery!..........then the duty tech came in early one night 10pm check and there he was in the crayfish tank!!! So not only returning to his tank BUT he also had a sense of time and/or routine!
     
    Tentacle Toast, Mot Reyd and DWhatley like this.

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