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Hunger Games: The Octopus at the Ocean Institute Knows the Secret

How do you feed an octopus? It's not a riddle, but a fun and serious question. The Ocean Institute has the answer and the octopus to show you how it's done.

I often wondered how you feed an octopus. What do they eat? 

My curiosity about the care and feeding of the Ocean Institute’s cephalopod brought me new respect for this intelligent invertebrate of the sea.

The secret?

Enrichment—challenges and games. Hide food in a Lego, for example. 

The feeding tends to be random in order to keep the octopus interested and entertained.

Julianne Steers, chief aquarist at the Ocean Institute said, “I want the enrichment tool to make them take their time so they won’t get bored.”  Julianne, a
resident of Aliso Viejo, loves to think up new challenges and enrichment tools
to use.

The octopus likes to return the favor by challenging Julianne, too. 

According to Julianne, “when a feeding stick is used to place food in the tank, if the octopus is very interested in eating, it will try to steal the feeding stick—take it away from us. Once we had a shorter 18-inch feeding stick and the octopus pulled the entire stick into the tank, thinking it belonged to them."

Think of the seagulls in Finding Nemo….”Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine.”

Seems the octopus is stronger than we realize—snatching a feeding stick out of the hands of a human.

The one female octopus photographed here is a two-spot octopus. Most live 1.5 to 2 years. Our octopus is just over the 2 year mark and she jets and swims in her Ocean Institute environment in the Ecology Lab.

Favorite food for an octopus (And, yes, it does depend on the octopus) Shrimp. It’s quite a bit sweeter.

How to feed an octopus

Never handfed at the Ocean Institute. “When our hands are in the tanks, we are cleaning the tanks. We don’t want hands associated with feeding,” said Julianne.

The food at OI is fresh frozen, and then thawed. It’s like being an executive
chef who cuts the food in the appropriate sizes. It’s all restaurant quality food. 

Yes, sometimes it’s a treat for the octopus to have live food.

How the octopus eats

Most often, it takes the food and wraps her/his arms around the food (so the food is not actually visible). 

They taste with sensors on their suctions cups.

Let the “games” begin

The kids who visit the Ocean Institute love watching the octopus as it eats and moves around.  Check on the feeding schedule for the octopus during weekend hours when the Ocean Institute is open to the public between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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