The Pet Tree House - Where Pets Are Family Too : Can You Keep Cephalopods As Pets?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Can You Keep Cephalopods As Pets?

Cephalopods, the class of mollusks which scientists classify octopuses, squid, cuttlefish and nautiluses, can change color faster than a chameleon. They can also change texture and body shape, and, and if those camouflage techniques don't work, they can still "disappear" in a cloud of ink, which they use as a smoke-screen or decoy. Cephalopods are also fascinating because they have three hearts that pump blue blood, they're jet powered, and they're found in all oceans of the world, from the tropics to the poles, the intertidal to the abyss. 

Cephalopods have inspired legends and stories throughout history and are thought to be the most intelligent of invertebrates. Some can squeeze through the tiniest of cracks. They have eyes and other senses that rival those of humans.

Usually, hobbyists interested in keeping a pet cephalopod should stick with Octopus or Cuttlefish - Squid don't survive well in aquaria) should first consider buying one at their local aquarium store. Even if they don't regularly stock cephalopods, most good saltwater shops can special order an octopus (and in rare cases, a cuttlefish) if it is requested. 

The main advantage one gains by going through a pet store is in cost—and it's a big difference. Because pet stores buy through distributors and in bulk quantities, a cephalopod at the local shop will cost nearly half of what it would to get through the mail: overnight shipping is expensive and saltwater is heavy; not to mention if the shipment has to cross a national border and become mired in red-tape permits and government bureaucrats that think cuttlefish are fish and octopuses are not because the word fish is not part of their name. Although some retailers will require a deposit to cover their risk, another advantage to the consumer lies in the fact that you normally get to examine the animal and ask the shop owners and caretakers questions about it before you make it your pet. 

Here's The Caveat:

Most shop owners lack specific knowledge about cephalopods, their care requirements, and species information. The online shops and mail-order houses are usually no better about it. In fact, most of what the industry knows about cephs is from trial-and-error and long-standing rumors—rumors that don't favor our soft friends. Many will slap the omnipresent O. vulgaris or O. joubini tag on their animal and sell it as such, regardless of where it came from or what it actually is. The animal you receive could be a baby with the potential to grow very large, or it could be a full grown adult of a small species that may have only weeks left in it's natural lifespan. 

Most octopuses in the aquarium trade are in the small to medium size range as adults—rarely larger than a grapefruit. Both scientists and hobbyists alike find frustration in finding transportation for their cephalopods, and international orders will need to address permits to cross national borders. 

In addition to costing more than many marine fish and invertebrates, none of the cephalopod family tolerate shipping stresses well, and there's always the chance of inking during shipment. 

Most other type of cargo has higher priority than live fish and invertebrates, and some of the species listed below are only available in certain seasons. Also, the prices below do not include shipping costs—which can be over $50 for the smallest specimens and thousands for the largest. 

Things to think about before you buy a cephalopod:

1. Home aquarists and scientists agree- cephalopods can be really hard to keep alive in a tank. They require a very clean, stable seawater system, escape proof lids, and they are picky eaters. Keeping one can be expensive, and feeding one can be expensive.

2. While some countries have strict collecting laws, many tropical animals are collected from the wild using irresponsible and illegal methods such as poaching and/or “cyanide fishing”. Cyanide fishing involves squirting cyanide into the reef and breaking coral to dig out the poisoned, stunned animals. It kills coral, other invertebrates, and fish. Ask your aquarium shop for tank-raised animals.

3. It might be deadly. Blue-ringed octopuses are deadly. There is no anti-venom for their bite. Other octopuses are so poorly known that we don’t even know how dangerous they might be. Relatives of Abdopus aculeatus have a poison in their bodies that’s similar to TTX, the poison in blue-ring venom (Robertson et al. 2004 Toxicon 44: 765). Striking animals like “Wunderpus” and the “Mimic” might be highly venomous. It appears that the skin of the "Flamboyant" cuttlefish is toxic. You don’t want to be the one who finds out. 

4. It might be rare, so taking a wild animal might put those cephalopod populations at risk.

5. It might try to crawl out. Octopuses are well-known for their abilities to escape aquaria. Intertidal species are notoriously hard to keep in a tank. If it goes walkabout when you’re not looking, then you will find a dead octopus on the floor the next morning, or behind the couch in two years. 

6. It might eat your other pets. Crabs, clams and sometimes snails are not safe from the voracious appetite of a cephalopod. Often fish will either eat your cephalopod or be eaten by your cephalopods.

7. They don’t live very long, most species only about a year. By the time you get your tropical cephalopod, it is an adult near the end of its live span. You’ll be lucky to keep it alive for a few months







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