Suitability of Octopus vulgaris as an experimental animal


Apr 19, 2010
I've been tossing this idea around in my head for quite some time.

Is Octopus vulgaris more suitable for studying octopus behavior than any other species?

The only thing I can see going for it is its size; it's presumably easier to manipulate and is found worldwide. However, acquiring it means capturing it in the wild, which is time-consuming, possibly expensive, and possibly traumatic to the animal.

It is also the best-studied species of octopus, so it has precedent going for it.

However, there are better options. Try bimacs.

It is smaller and easier to keep; there's a wealth of information that we've collected on TONMO about raising this species. It only requires about 60 gallons as opposed to the 200 gallons that seems to be more suitable for Octopus vulgaris. Given the right tools one should be able to manipulate Octopus bimaculoides' body parts just as well.

It is large-egged, which means it is easier to breed and maintain in captivity. DWhatley has kept several generations of these animals, I think.

Studying the physiology of more than one species of octopus would help to improve the quality of our observations on octopuses in general, as Octopus vulgaris is just one species of a whole lot of octopods.

Thoughts? Criticism? Flames?


Colossal Squid
Staff member
Jan 22, 2004
Isn't the name vulgaris applied to many octos, but they may not actually be the same?

Probably the main difference in husbandry is the need for chilling the water of the bimac - can be expensive and resource intensive.



Jan 19, 2007
I think it depends on whether you are interested in behaviour primariliy or whether you want to include physiology in your research plans. There are a number of studies of behaviour using bimacs, and other species, so you would have some established literature to build on if you use something other than the european vulgaris.. I think their primary advantage of bimacs is their smaller size (any handling issues of smaller animals should be easily overcome), because smaller means less food needed, less space needed for adequate housing and less space needed in experimental arenas, transfer containers, etc.

Using a larger species can be logistically difficult in experiments. From experience with bimacs, briareus, vulgaris and juvenile GPOs, bigger animals are more a pain for videography, far more exhausting to move, if you need to move them (hefting a bucket full of GPO vs a beaker with a bimac makes a big difference after you've done it all day!), and require vastly more space to behave in any 'normal' way. Chilling for bimacs is an additional complication, but weigh that against the extra water volume and filtration needed for larger species and you probably come out close to even.

The other side of the coin though is if you want to do surgical manipulations or physiology - in my opinion bigger is better here. Nerves, brain regions etc are easier to see, surgical sites are comparatively more minor on larger animals, and bigger animals suffer less surgical stress from surgery because relative blood volume etc, is larger and they tolerate anaesthesia much better. If you want to do electrophysiology, for example, which is a common counterpart to behavioural studies, bigger is generally better there too, except that large tissue volumes can be harder to maintain ex vivo. Also almost all the physiology and neuroanatomy has been done in O. vulgaris, so adapting techniques for different species might be quite challenging without an established literature for other species as there is for behaviour.

I'd love to see some work done on species other than vulgaris, so I hope you can get something established. Have you ever considered cuttlefish? Those have most of the advantages of both smaller octos in behaviour and larger octos in physiology. And they don't escape all the time!


Colossal Squid
Staff member
Jul 9, 2009
South Florida
DWhatley has kept several generations of these animals, I think.
D has her first bimac now, but Joe-ceph has kept several, however i dont think any active members have kept several generations of them. D bred Briareus with success, but they are a small egged species. An I think there was one member who did it with bimacs, but it was before my time here and I'm not sure who it was.


Certified Ceph Head For Life
Staff member
Sep 4, 2006
Gainesville, GA
D bred Briareus with success, but they are a small egged species.
DWhatley has kept several [bimac] generations of these animals, I think.
Correction. Thanks for the confidence votes but ... I have raised a captive born and a captive bred generation of O. mercatoris (large egg) and a captive born generation of O. brieareus (that I did mate but was not successful raising any of the hatchlings), also large egg. You would HEAR major shouts if I was succesful with a small egg species :biggrin2: but I need to become consistently successful with the large egg species before I intentionally attempt working with any small egg options (but it would be joubini if I had my choice).

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