The Octopus – General Natural History Notes & Care of the Common Tropical Octopus, Octopus cyaneus, In Captivity

Please welcome back Frank Indiviglio with another excellent article.
With their sharp eyesight, inquisitive personalities and large brains, octopuses seem far removed from their relatives – the 100, 000 or so species of clams, scallops, slugs, snails and other creatures that make up the Phylum Mollusca (the Mollusks). Over 700 types of octopus, squid, cuttlefish and chambered nautilus are known, with odd deep sea forms being discovered each year.

Octopuses have much going for and against them as pets. They are, without a doubt, the most intelligent of the invertebrates, and often seem to rival much more “advanced” creatures in brain power. Able to distinguish and associate various shapes with a food reward, some have even learned to unscrew glass jars to obtain food. In one laboratory, cameras revealed that an octopus was leaving its aquarium each night to prey upon crabs held in a neighboring tank. Each morning, the octopus was found back in his own aquarium, having crossed several feet of dry shelf space in his nocturnal travels! One that I kept would, according to my grandmother, “watch her” as she prepared dinner (octopus see very well, and notice movement outside their aquariums). Unnerved by the thought of our pet witnessing the demise of his relatives, she would cover the aquarium with a towel on those days when she cooked octopus or squid for dinner!

Common Tropical OctopusOn the down side, however, all species studied are quite short-lived (2 years at most) – quite odd considering their complex lifestyles. Males generally expire right after mating, and females survive only long enough to see their eggs through hatching.

The species most often seen in the pet trade is the common tropical octopus, Octopus cyaneus (please note that there is a good deal of confusion as to the identification of this species). Growing to a maximum length of 12 inches, it does well if provided excellent water quality (manage it as you would a delicate reef fish) and a secure retreat in which to hide. Octopuses absolutely need to hide and are intolerant of disturbance (although once acclimated many will become quite bold at feeding time). It is also important to avoid suddenly putting on a light if the room in which the aquarium sits is dark. When disturbed, octopuses release a dark-colored ink (sepia), which can be toxic to the animal in close quarters.

Bear in mind that octopuses consume large amounts of food and produce copious waste products – good filtration, frequent water quality tests and water changes are vital if you are to keep them successfully. Give your octopus the largest aquarium possible (this will help with water quality and in reducing stress on the animal) and be sure the lid is weighed down or otherwise fastened. The common tropical octopus does well at temperatures of 76-78 F. As most species are nocturnal, you should equip the aquarium with a bulb designed for nighttime viewing so as to be able to observe your pet without disturbing it.

Most octopus favor crabs, shrimp, clams, scallops, mussels and other shellfish, but usually take fish as well. Seafood markets are useful sources of food for your pet – as we know little of their nutritional requirements, I suggest providing as much dietary variety as possible. The wide range of frozen marine foods now available will provide you with a great many options as well.

Other species sometimes offered for sale include the red or pygmy octopus, O. bocki, which is highly nocturnal, and the common octopus, O. vulgaris. As the common octopus occupies a range spanning the Mediterranean, the Sea of JapBlue-ringed Octopusan and the Eastern Atlantic, it is likely a fairly hardy creature. However, with a leg-span approaching 3 feet, it is too large for most home aquariums.

It is important to remember that all octopuses, even very small ones, can inflict painful bites with their sharp, parrot-like beaks, and that they can never be considered “tame” enough to handle. Most if not all produce venom in order to subdue their prey, and even venoms not shown to be dangerous to people can cause severe or even fatal reactions in particularly sensitive individuals. Amazingly, the tiny the blue-ringed octopus, Hapalochlaena maculosa, quite capable of killing a human with one bite, is sometimes offered for sale. Learn to recognize this species and avoid it at all costs.

Breeding octopuses in captivity is difficult, as is raising the young. Recent research at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography indicated that dietary factors, especially the absence of fatty acids such as DHA and EPA, are responsible for high mortalities among those that do hatch in aquariums. Enriched brine shrimp have been used with some success, but more variety is likely needed. I would experiment with various species of marine shrimp, worms, plankton and tiny marine creatures seined from eel grass beds and other marine habitats (check the legality of collecting before doing so).

Octopus husbandry is in need of much attention by serious hobbyists. These fascinating, complex creatures are impacted by habitat loss and collection for the food, bait and pet trade. Breeding them in captivity will certainly take pressure off wild populations and help in understanding what they need to survive in the wild.

Please write in with your own thoughts and questions. Thanks…until next time, Frank.

You can see photos of hatchling octopuses and read about a captive breeding effort at:

Understanding Marine and Freshwater Fish Behavior – nocturnal and diurnal activity

Please welcome back Frank Indiviglio with another interesting article.

Studying fish behavior is both a fascinating and very practical endeavor for the fish keeper. In addition to opening one’s eyes to the amazing diversity of fish lifestyles and behavioral adaptations, research concerning your pets’ natural behaviors will also lead to much greater success in keeping and breeding them.

The primary motivation behind animal behavior is survival – breeding, finding a suitable environment, obtaining food and avoiding predators (yes, human behavior often seems to break this rule!). Of course, even the best-designed aquarium is a poor mimic of nature, and so captive fishes must modify their behaviors – sometimes so much so that the actual purpose or function of what the fishes are doing will be lost on us. However, with experience, you should be able to see the relationship that the captive behavior has to its natural counterpart.

A wonderful aspect of the study of fish behavior is that it will provide a lifetime of surprises – there is far too much for any one person to know, and new facts emerge, quite literally, on a daily basis. With careful observation and research, you may well be able to discover sTiger Oscaromething new. Today I will focus on just one facet of behavior – the time at which fishes are active, and how this affects their welfare in the aquarium.

When selecting fishes for your aquarium, it is important to consider whether they are diurnal (active by day), nocturnal (active by night) or crepuscular (active in the dim light of evening and early morning). This will affect both your enjoyment of your pets and the composition of species that you might wish to include in the aquarium.

Nocturnal fishes such as the fire eel, Mastacembelus eyrthrotaenia, and other freshwater eels, need a place to hide during the daytime. If denied this, they may become stressed and will languish in captivity. However, eels, catfishes and other species that barely move by day change radically at night, and may engage in a surprising degree of activity. These nighttime wanderings may disturb diurnal fishes and prevent them from resting properly, thereby impairing their health.

Unlike the alwSnowflake Moray Eelays “ready-to eat” oscar, Astronotus ocellatus, and other Cichlids, nocturnal fishes often appear placid by day and morph into quite aggressive predators only as night falls. For example, octopuses, snowflake moray eels, Echidna nebulous, and similar species are usually quite content to spend the day secluded in a favorite retreat – easily tricking the novice into believing that they are compatible with their tank-mates. At nighttime, however, they undergo quite a change, and will quickly devour smaller neighbors.

Many diurnal fishes, such as the princess parrot fish, Scarus taeniopterus, and related species, swim about actively in daylight but secrete themselves within caves at night. Again, if you see them only during the day, you may miss such points and fail to provide for their needs (shelter-sleeping species become stressed if forced to remain in the open at night).
Red Anglerfish
Please bear in mind also that many nocturnal fishes will not feed during the day. Some, including most catfishes and moray eels, will forego their nocturnal habits once they adjust to captivity. Many, however, (i.e. the fossil catfish, Heteropneustes fossilis) remain strictly nocturnal even after years in captivity, and must be fed at night if they are to thrive.

Just as nocturnal species may unsettle diurnal fishes at night, actively swimming fish (by day or night) may stress species that are largely sessile (fish which move about only occasionally). Most typical “sit and wait predators,” such as the various anglerfishes, will be greatly disturbed if forced to remain in close proximity to vigorous, mobile species (also, bottom-feeding predators usually do not obtain enough food when kept with surface-feeding fishes).

The best way to observe nocturnal fishes, and to see how diurnal fishes behave at night, is by utilizing a bulb designed specifically for nighttime aquarium viewing. Be sure to invest in such bulbs, as they will open up an entirely new world of fascinating observations and learning opportunities for you. If you plan to focus on nocturnal fishes, you may wish to consider a complete reverse light cycle, in the manner of zoo exhibits for nocturnal creatures. If a dimly lit room is available, you can leave the night-viewing bulbs on during the day, and give the fishes their “daytime” at night. This may give you more time to observe your nocturnal fishes – unless, of course, you are yourself “nocturnal”! I have been able to learn a great deal about a number of animals, both at home and while working at zoos, in this manner. Be sure to research your fishes’ natural history so that you can provide a day/night cycle of the proper length.

I’ll explore other aspects of fish behavior in future articles – until then, please write in with your observations and questions. Thanks, Frank.

An interesting article concerning the effect of light on fish activity is posted at:

Thanks Frank,

Until Next Time,


Teach Your Goldfish To Do Tricks With the R2 Fish School

Ok, I thought I would blog about this new product we’re getting in at That Fish Place: as it’s popping up all over the place lately.

The R2 Fish School from the folks at R2 Solutions company dispels the myth that goldfish, and apparently any smaller sized fish, have 2-second memories by teaching them how to perform a variety of tricks. As wild as it seems, the R2 Fish School is loaded with press showing goldfish in action.

For all of you myth busters out there, the system works by simple positive reinforcement, but it’s truly hilarious to watch your fish, literally, swim through hoops. Each R2 Fish School is packed with “athletic gear” to get your fish punting a football through goal posts, scoring a soccer ball in a goal, swimming the slalom, going through tunnels or doing the limbo. The Fish School “arena” fits into tanks as small as five gallons, and parts of it can be used separately in a smaller fish bowl. An instructional DVD is included so you can get your fish into training fast.

Great for kids, or even those adults who are always looking for something else to compete at (Goldfish Fantasy League or Extreme Goldfish Tricks on ESPN2), The R2 Fish School looks like an interesting product. Let me know if anyone has any cool fish training stories to tell!

Until Next Time,


Pond Health Tip: Using Salt

Pond Health Tip: Using Salt

One of the easiest things that you can do to help promote the health of the fish in your pond is using Salt. Whether you have a small pool of Goldfish, or a large Koi Pond, using salt as part of your maintenance regiment is a simple, safe and inexpensive product that can greatly benefit your fish’s health.

During times of stress, whether from parasites, pathogenic bacteria, or poor water quality, fish can struggle to maintain proper electrolyte balance in their bodies. Fish use special cells in their gills, called chloride cells, to absorb electrolytes from the surrounding water. The absorbed electrolytes play an important role in a fish’s ability to intake oxygen, and release Carbon Dioxide and Ammonium through their gill membranes. When a fish’s natural ability to maintain its electrolyte balance is reduced, they can suffer from a condition known as “Osmotic Shock”. Fish suffering from osmotic shock have trouble absorbing oxygen, and in poor water conditions are at high risk of perishing from nitrite toxicity. Keeping a therapeutic level of salt in your pond will help maintain your fish’s electrolyte balance, and help prevent Osmotic shock, and reduce the stress of elevated nitrites in new ponds, or poor conditions. Another benefit of using salt is that salt will also promote a heavy slime coat on your fish. Your fishes slime coat is its first line of defense of attack from parasites and disease. Proper gill function and slime coat are key to a fishes over all immune system and health.

Salt can be used for several purposes in maintaining your fish’s health. As I have already discussed, you can use salt at a low maintenance level for an indefinite period of time, how much salt can safely be used depends upon your pond. You need to be careful with the amount of salt that you use in your pond, especially when using salt in ponds with live plants. At Higher concentrations, salt can have negative affects on plant life. You need to be sure of your pond volume; this will allow you to accurately calculate your salt dosage requirement. For ponds that have live plants you should keep a maintenance level of salt between .05% – .1%. For ponds with fish only, you can maintain a maintenance level between .1% -.2%, these concentrations are safe to use all the time.

Salt is also a highly effective treatment against common parasites found in ponds, as well as nitrite toxicity. If you do not have plants in your pond, you can use an elevated therapeutic level of .2%-.4% for 2 to 4 weeks, this will reduce the stress of parasitic attack on the fish, limit the parasites ability to reproduce, and even kill many of the parasites. If you want to use a therapeutic level of salt, but you have plants, you can remove your plants temporarily into a kiddy pool, and then treat your pond. After conditions have improved simply perform a water change to get the salt concentration back below .1% and then reintroduce the plants.
Salt can also be used as a short term bath when severe parasite infestation or bacterial infection has reached advanced stages. You can catch your fish, and place them into a high concentration of salt to rapidly kill and remove parasites from the fish. Bath concentrations of salt should be 2%; the fish can be dipped for up to 15 minutes, depending upon the behavior of the fish, and its reaction to the salt bath. If the fish is not handling the salt bath well, or is having trouble breathing, remove immediately.

What kind of salt do you use? Non Iodized table salt (sodium chloride) can be used, but a better choice is a salt that is made from evaporated sea salt, or a synthetic equivalent. While sodium chloride is the major componet in seawater, there are a number of other minerals in seawater that fish can use to maintain electrolyte levels, such as calcium, magnesium and potassium. Brand name salts such as Aquarium Pharmacueticals Pond Salt, and
Pondmaster Pond Salt
by Supreme, are evaporated sea salts.

One last thing to remember when using salt in your pond is that salt does not evaporate, so it never leaves the pond. Do not add more salt when you add water to your pond that has evaporated. The only time you need to add more salt is when you have physically removed water from your pond, like from a water change, or a severe rainstorm that caused the pond to overflow. You should always test your salt level before making any adjustments.

I hope that this has helped answer some questions about using salt in your pond

Until next blog,


Species Profile: Pygmy Angels

Welcome back Mellisa Leiter, one of the Marine Biologist who works in our fish room here at TFP. Mellisa has written an article about one of the coolest little saltwater fish around, the Pygmy Angel. I hope you enjoy!

Pygmy Angelfish

Pygmy angelfish are fairly small, yet bright and colorful. They are generally not-specific feeders and usually accept most prepared food offered to them. They should be offered frozen foods like Mysis Shrimp, Formula 1, Formula 2, and Clams. They should also be offered flakes, pellets, and a regular supply of algae to round out their diet. Pygmy Angelfish typically do well in an established aquarium, 55 gallons or larger. Some acceptable tankmates include damsels, clownfish, tangs, gobies, blennies, and wrasses. As with their larger Angelfish cousins, careful consideration needs to be taken when attempting to keep more than one Pygmy Angel in the same tank. Two Pygmy Angels of the same species or very similar coloration should not be housed together, they will be very aggressive towards each other. If you want to attempt to keep two different species of Pygmy Angels together, your best bet is with species of different coloration. While there is no guarantee that these feisty little fish will coexist in your aquarium, you can increase your odds of them getting along in a few ways. First, the bigger the tank the better; 55 gal tank or larger. Second, make sure that there is plenty of live rock with lots of hiding places, this will allow the fish to establish their own territory. You can also reduce aggression by adding the fish at the same time, this way no territory has been established by older residents. Pygmy Angelfish are generally “reef safe” but may nip at the occasional polyp from time to time. I would not recommend Pygmy Angels for reef aquariums with Acropora, or other SPS corals for this reason. Their max size ranges from 3-6 inches for most species.
One of the most popular Pygmy angelfish would be the Coral Beauty (Cenropyge bispinosus). Their colors range from a deep purple to shades of orange. They stay fairly small (3-4”) and can be housed in tanks as small as 30 gallons. Coral Beauty’s are usually “reef safe” but may nip on polyps as well as the slime coat on other corals. The Coral Beauty is very hardy once acclimated into a well established tank with plenty of liverock.


Another hardy Pygmy angelfish that does well in an established tank is the Flame Angel (Centropyge loricula). Their colors are a vivid red with black lines. The amount of black varies. Flame Angelfish do not have different juvenile to adult coloration’s so be sure to pick the stripe pattern that you like since it won’t change. Flame Pygmy angelfish tend to be more peaceful than some of the other pygmy angelfish. Flame Pygmy Angelfish are usually “reef safe” but may eat polyps or clam mantles.


One of the smaller pygmy angelfish that is also hardy is the Cherub Pygmy Angelfish (Centropyge argi) . Cherub Pygmy angelfish is a purplish blue with a splash of orange around its face. They reach a max size of 2-3 inches. Cherub Pygmy angelfish may be shy any first, but don’t let their small size full you. These little angels have attitudes and will defend their home at all cost. They are generally “reef safe” but may pick at the occasional polyp.
One of the larger Pygmy angelfish would be the Keyhole Pygmy Angelfish (Centropyge tibicen). They can reach a max size between 7-8 inches. Keyhole Angelfish are not as colorful as many of the other angelfish. They are mostly dark blue to black with the lower portion of the anal fin bright yellow and an oval white area on both sides of their body. Keyhole Angelfish do not tend to ship as well as some of the other angelfish but once properly acclimated they are usually pretty hardy.
One of my favorite pygmy angel is the Lemonpeel Pygmy Angelfish (Centropyge flavissimus). They are bright yellow with blue trim around both eyes and gill covers. Lemonpeels are generally shy and need lots of places to hide to feel safe. Once acclimated they usually become more social. Lemonpeel angels are more likely than some of the other pygmy angelfish to pick at LPS corals and clam mantles.
One of the more aggressive pygmy angelfish is the Eibli Angelfish (Centropyge eibli). Eibli Angelfish have a silver gray body with orange stripes, black tail rimmed in blue, and a hint of orange around the eyes and belly. These angels adapt fairly well to aquarium life if given an established tank with lots of macroalgae to graze on. Eibli Angelfish are usually “reef safe” but may nip on the occasional polyp or clam mantle.
While there are many pygmy angelfish that do well in aquariums there are some species that are gorgeous but are a challenge for even the experienced aquarist. The Potter’s angelfish (Centropyge potteri) and Golden Angelfish (Centropyge aurantia) fall under this category. Potters angelfish are bright orange with blue gray scribbled lines and blue trim. Golden Angelfish are a burnt orange color with vertical yellow stripes. These angelfish tend to be very shy and reclusive and do not readily accept prepared food.
I hope you enjoyed Mellissa’s article.
Until next blog,