It was 3 a.m. on June 25, and Security Officer Clara Nilsen was making her regular rounds of the Aquarium’s ground-floor exhibits. Suddenly, she spied what looked like a banana peel on the floor, in front of our Shale Reef lookdown exhibit.
“That’s odd,” she thought to herself. “Our custodial staff is usually so thorough!”
Closer examination revealed that the “banana peel” was actually a live, healthy, fist-sized red octopus (Octopus rubescens) in the midst of a midnight ramble. But where had it come from? A little Cephalopod CSI provided the answer: There was an octopus-sized wet mark on the railing in front of the Shale Reef exhibit, and an eight-foot “slime trail” leading across the floor. Mystery solved!
Clara, an experienced diver and underwater enthusiast, quickly picked up the escape artist and placed it in the water, where it “inked,” then disappeared under a rock.
Red Octopus Road Trip
But here’s where the story gets really interesting. As it turns out, the red octopus isn’t normally part of the Shale Reef exhibit, which is open on top so that visitors can look down onto an array of colorful invertebrates with the help of large, floating magnifiers.
Our husbandry staff believes the octopus hitchhiked into the Aquarium as a tiny, fingernail-size juvenile, attached to a rock or sponge. Once inside the exhibit, the reclusive, nocturnal octopus hid among the rocks, growing to its current size undetected. Based on the octopus’s size, our aquarists think it has been there—presiding over its own, secret octopus’s garden—for close to a year!
“We’d noticed that there weren’t as many crabs coming out at feeding time in that exhibit,” said Senior Aquarist Barbara Utter. “Now we realize that’s where they’d all been going—into the octopus’s tummy!”
What’s just as amazing is that none of our visitors, poring over the exhibit through the magnifiers eight hours a day, saw it either.
The clever stowaway is now behind the scenes, being readied for display in a Splash Zone exhibit. This time, you can bet that the intelligent, agile animal will be kept in an enclosed space—and closely watched!