By Lori S., Senior Aquarist at the Virginia Aquarium
While it was an outcome we were prepared for- octopuses are notoriously difficult to rear, especially given the dearth of information on their juvenile lives- our team was hopeful that we passed this pitfall and the healthiest animal had survived. Unfortunately, and to the great disappointment of our animal care team, our beloved baby octopus passed away on June 19. We hoped that time may have cleared up any questions about its passing, but sadly, we still do not know any definitive cause or have any clear answers.
We knew it would be difficult, but our team provided the best care possible for these animals, and we're heartbroken at their loss.
One of the animal's keepers penned an article originally slated for our magazine detailing how we cared for these animals. We wanted to share it, as it provides some insight into the challenges, successes, and things we learned while working with an incredible animal.
Cephalopod Parenting 101
If anyone had asked me six months ago how to rear baby octopus, I would have shrugged my shoulders and responded with an honest but enthusiastic, "I don't know… but I'm going to figure it out!"
So… how does one rear baby octopuses? Well, there's very little information about how to do it (other than how difficult it can be)! We were fortunate to be one of only a handful of institutions to have this privilege, and I have learned a lot.
Over the winter, we were blessed with the presence of a lovely little female Octopus briareus, better known as the Caribbean reef octopus, a species our team hadn't worked with before. We learned that this octopus was quite shy, but she turned out to be the best mother I'd ever seen! In December, she began to lay eggs in her favorite cave, and dutifully cleaned and tended those many strings of eggs around the clock.
Realizing that these eggs just might make it since they had such a great mom, I began to build a little "octopus apartment" with all the things I was guessing that a young, intelligent, upstanding young octopus might want or need. Using a modified pet carrier that had previously been used to raise little jellies, I added shells, rocks, and some… interesting… escape-deterrent modifications of my own design. Once I saw that the eggs had developed little eyes, I knew this was going to be quite the test!
When they hatched, we carefully moved the little octopuses into their new digs and began feeding them. And feeding them. And feeding them. These little octopuses ate so many live shrimp fed to them through a turkey baster. It seems odd, but it worked! Octopuses' growth rates are so substantial that they constantly eat! As time wore on, the strongest animal became evident. As it grew, we checked off the milestones: one week, two, then four, then eight.
So… how does one rear baby octopus? I can say with a fair amount of certainty these days that it's with a lot of live shrimp, patience, time, and dedication. Oh, and if you have a turkey baster handy, that helps, too!