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FAQs about Cephalopod Disease/Health

Related Articles: Cephalopods, Don't Buy an Octopus Before Reading This by James Fatherree, The Ballet of the Wonderpus by Richard Ross, Mollusks,

Related FAQs: Cephalopods 1, Cephalopods 2Cephalopod Identification, Cephalopod Behavior, Cephalopod Compatibility, Cephalopod Selection, Cephalopod Feeding, Cephalopod Systems, Cephalopod Reproduction,

cold water tank questions... Mostly octopus hlth., sys.     8/10/11
Hi Marco,
<Hello Ross.>
I'm not sure if you even are at WetWebMedia any more, but I've written to you over the years and you've been most helpful, so I thought I would try again.
<Oh, yes I am still here. Everyday. Though you may not be able to tell from the number of emails I answer. I'm too late often (Europe) or leave the ones where you can make cool comments to the native speakers with a better sense of humour.>
Background: I teach marine biology at a high school and about 5 years ago a couple of seniors set up a 100 gallon, cold water, marine tank in my classroom. Since they have long graduated, it has been up to me to take over the tank and learn on the fly (a process that never seems to stop, it seems). The tank has two Magnum 350 canister filters. One has the micron cartridge polishing filter and one has Fluval BioMax. There is a protein skimmer with an Ozonizer attached (not even sure what this does and if I need it).
<Can destroy some organic molecules (e.g. the ones giving the water a yellow tinge) that otherwise are not removed. Can also help with ORP/pH problems.>
The sump has half the number of bioballs, as originally put in, because you said they were frequently a source of nitrate problems (more on that in a sec.). I also almost always make my sea water using water from a reverse osmosis filter. Also, there is a fairly uniform layer of sand on the bottom of the tank that is about 4 inches deep.
<Okay. I remember this in parts.>
Now my questions. This may take a while. Pull up a chair.
<Done.>
Last fall, I got a female Octopus bimaculoides for the tank. Since she ate everything in sight, she only shared the tank with 2 brittle stars, one sea urchin, a small sea star, and a small chunk of cold water coral. (interestingly, she didn't like to eat anything in the Echinoderm phylum). She did beautifully. However, I went on vacation for two weeks this summer and things sort of fell apart. I had a faculty member come in and feed her just 3 times a week. She did fine the first week and then he wrote that one day she didn't take any food. He thought she might have been snacking on some snails that I had put in before I left. Unfortunately, when I got home, she died the next day. At first, I just chalked it up to natural causes. She was wild caught and we didn't know her exact age, we had her for 10 months; I just figured her time has come.
<Yes, probably you are right.>
Now, I'm not so sure. I've always had trouble with the nitrates in the tank. While the nitrites and ammonia are always zero, the Nitrates are almost always 20mg/l.
<Not ideal, but also not in a dangerous range to most marine life. You do have a lot of nitrifying filtration, I'd not expect it to drop much lower. In the sandbed probably a lot of denitrification happens, but these processes are much slower than in tropical tanks, the low-oxygen zones are smaller, also.>
The sea star that was living in the tank with the octopus died back in May.
<Most common causes for cold water sea stars dying are feeding and too high temperatures in my opinion/experience.>
I didn't think much about it then, but perhaps it is the Canary in the Coal Mine. Since the octopus died, I did a through cleaning of everything (every pump, sump etc.). I went on vacation again, and this time a pump broke. Since the water couldn't circulate properly, the water temp did rise about 10 degrees or so.
<This is a problem. Not only with regard to circulation, but mostly due to decreasing oxygen levels.>
The tank is essentially empty and I thought the nitrate levels would drop because it would seem the bacteria could finally keep up. But I checked today and they are still at 20mg/l. Also when I checked the tank, the sea urchin is now dead and the coral looks pretty dead too. Is this all just bad luck on my part?
<No, I don't think so.>
The recent deaths are due to the temperature change
<Yes, likely.>
and the octopus due to old age
<Also, very likely.>
or is something more nefarious going on? Could something be wrong with my testing kit? Perhaps the 20mg/L is a faulty reading. (I'm using the API kit and every pet store I go to seem to only carry that brand).
<You can try another one, e.g. Salifert. They are also sold online. Also, the water has to have the proper temperature when tested. Since you have a cold water tank, you need to wait until your water sample has at least room temperature or whatever the testing kit in question recommends.>
Should I test for something other than pH, nitrate, ammonia and nitrite??
<This is what I would test for.>
Any suggestions?
<One or more large water changes with clean, natural sea water if you still have the possibility. If it was my tank I'd exchange the BioMax canister filter and more bio balls to a circulation pump or power head and see what ammonia, nitrites and nitrates do. >
I want to get another octopus in September because it was such a wonderful addition to my classroom, but I want to figure out what's going on before I do.
<In my opinion you are doing fine.>
Thanks so much. Ross
<Welcome. Marco.>

Treating an octopus for a puncture   10/13/10
Dear Crew,
<Sabrina>
I have a bimac octopus. The other day I put some plastic plants into the tank because it was lacking any kind of color. Well I should have thought about it more because one of the plants I put in were the fake grass (with the pointy tips). Well as you can figure or should by this point (since I am emailing you about it) she got stuck with the grass and now I am worried her. My thought was to treat her food (hermits and fiddlers) with some sort of antibiotic to help prevent infection but I wanted some advice as to which kind. If there is another way of treating which you would recommend could you please let me know. I would greatly appreciate it.
<It has been my experience and reading that these animals are remarkably resilient... that they have "great powers of regeneration". I would not add an antibiotic to the system, nor lace the food>
Please get back to me as soon as possible. I did search before asking but there is little information for treating octopuses.
Thank you for your time.
Sabrina
<Optimizing water quality, assuring good nutrition are the directions I'd take here. Bob Fenner>

Common Atlantic Octopus eye problems  12/11/08 Hello, I am an aquarist for a marine biology education center in Rhode Island. I have a Common Atlantic Octopus in a 55 gallon tank with a skimmer, and a whisper filter. <Mmm... needs more filtration than this...> A 20 percent water change is performed daily and we test the water quality constantly. <For? Is the water pre-mixed, stored in advance? Is it natural seawater? If so, how processed?> Everything seems normal however this Octopus has its eyes closed. I realize they have no eye lids but they can basically scrunch their eyes shut if necessary. This has been going on for days. <Not good> We have nocturnal lighting on the tank as well so lighting is not irritating to it. I have tried to research this issue but I have come up with next to nothing. The Octopus is eating but I am worried we may have a problem. We have another one as well and that one is doing quite well. <Mmm, how long have you had the one animal?> They are fed every three days, one crab each. Which seems to work nicely. If you have any suggestions as to what may be the problem, I would love to hear them. Thank you so much! Allison <I want to refer you to folks who know much more: Richard Ross... Bob Fenner>

Re: Common Atlantic Octopus eye problems... Rich, it's Bob Fenner looking for input  -12/11/08 Do you have a pic of the scrunched eyes and a Latin name? :D Rich <Thanks much Rich... have CC'd Allison... we'll have to wait/see. Cheers, BobF>

Cuttlefish Injured Tentacles 11/3/05 A week ago I purchased a dwarf cuttlefish (bandensis, I think) from my LFS, who had already kept it for a few months. It was surprisingly healthy and active; the first night I brought it home it ate a white cloud I offered it from my planted tank.  I'm keeping it in a 29-gallon tank with 40 lbs. of oolitic sand and 25 lbs. of LR. I'm running a Bak Pak 2, a small back filter with phosphate remover and carbon, a Fluval 304 powerhead and a RIO 400 powerhead. <Would add a skimmer> I keep SPS corals and have a 150W 20K HQI metal halide. <Bright for these> My water parameters, I figured, are excellent for a cuttlefish: high calcium and strontium, clean water, etc., except for the bright light. But this cuttlefish is remarkably healthy. Last night I found it hovering above my pink bird's nest coral. Upon further inspection I noticed its retractable tentacles were stuck inside the coral, keeping the cuttlefish from pulling itself free. A Trapezia guard crab was holding onto the tentacles and eating the end on one. I figure the cuttlefish tried to grab the crab, but couldn't pull the crab out or pull itself free. <Sounds likely> It began shooting ink, and I had to manually pull the tentacles away from the crab with my hand. Now the retracting tentacles hang out limp like they're stretched out and stick to everything the cuttlefish touches with them. My question is can a cuttlefish heal from something like this? <Oh yes> I've read they can regenerate their tentacles. If I feed it frozen foods it won't need those tentacles to catch live prey, will it? <Not likely> Is my cuttlefish going to die? <Someday...> What can I do to help? Its behavior seems back to normal, except its a bit shook up still like it doesn't know what to do now that it's two retractable tentacles don't work. If they can heal, how long should it take? <A month or so> Your advice is greatly appreciated. Adam <As is your input. Cheers, Bob Fenner>

Re: Cuttlefish Injured Tentacles 11/3/05 Thanks, Bob. You called it. This morning, not more than 30 hours since the incident, the cuttlefish has recovered. Its tentacles are fully retracted. I had to join the forum and email the members at Tonmo.com. They were not as optimistic as you. Nevertheless, they were very kind and understanding. <Ah, good> <<Some months ago I tried to register at Tonmo, never received a confirmation email, and never received a reply from one of the site admins regarding.  Glad this is not the case with all who wish to join this forum.  Marina>> I spent a lot of time with the cuttlefish last night, offering it frozen krill, which it would not accept. Its tentacles were still hanging limp. But this morning I couldn't see its tentacles and figured it bit them off or they healed. When I fed it an algae-eating shrimp from my planted tank, it took it eagerly. <Good> These guys are more resilient than I give them credit for.  <"Amazing powers of regeneration... cognition, reflex..."> I know the lights are a little strong and that cuttlefish are diurnal, but the lights are on only 9 hours a day and there are several places for it to hide. It likes burying itself in the oolitic sand. I think it will adjust well and really is a great animal for a stony coral tank, because they want anything to do with each other. On the other hand, you should have seen my Nassarius snails going for the cuttlefish when it was injured. The ocean is not a good place to get sick! I had to remove them. <Good point> By the way, I am running a protein skimmer: the Bak Pak 2. Nothing special. <I see> My one question: Because cuttlefish are supposed to be so smart, will it learn to keep its arms out of the Seriatiopora? Those Trapezia crabs mean business. <Hard to state... crabs and other crustaceans are "irresistible" to these animals> Thanks so much, Bob. I'm having a good day. Adam Michels <Make it a lifetime! Bob Fenner>

Re: FW: Cuttlefish Injured Tentacles 11/3/05 Correction: "I think it will adjust well and really is a great animal for a stony coral tank, because they want NOTHING to do with each other."  My fault. <No worries. I understood/stand what you meant/mean> I've read many of your threads; you guys must really get upset when dealing with so many beginners . . . "I think I want to breed cuttlefish. Do I need a protein skimmer? Will a 10-gallon work?" Ha!  Adam Michels <Your time will come, is coming... Bob Fenner> 

Cuttlefish I work at a local fish store in Washington and with a shipment of marine  fish came a little cuttlefish. Not knowing what to do our salt water  department guy put it in a reef tank and the current was too much for it.  It turned white and tucked itself all up. After putting it into a  specimen container for a few minutes and not seeing any sign of movement  the "expert" concluded it was dead, and threw it into the garbage. Finding  this out I got the cuttlefish out after a few minutes and put it back into  a specimen container. The cuttlefish still changes colors very slightly in  small areas of it's body and I wanted to know if this is an indication that  it is still alive. It hasn't apparently moved at all but continues to alter  pigments in its flesh. Any info would be great. Thanks, Davin >> Well, it's a shame this little creature was shipped to the store... and it could still be dead, or close to it... and still change color... If you think it is real close to being dead... you might place it in the freezer to more humanely euthanize it. Bob Fenner

Hi Robert! Have some news (octopus out, seahorse in) Well it has been awhile! Hope all is well with your self! <Yes> We haven't said much after our touchy debate. <Mmm, don't recall> Just thought I let you know that Arnold the octopus has moved on to that big fish tank in the sky. I'm really baffled by this, because his water quality was in check. He didn't eat much 2 days before his passing. I did notice some strange behavior the night before his death. He also had a pale gray look to his skin with black specs or dots. If I do try another Octopus I'm going to use a bigger tank next time. <Typical loss pattern... likely "just old age"... Cephalopods don't live long, decline very rapidly at senescence> Right now I'm starting to transform the 12 gall into a mini reef with a few seahorse. Found this cool site. Check it out! http://www.seahorse.org/ <Yes... a very nice group of people, site. Have linked on ours. Bob Fenner> JET

Quick question re: cephalopods, Reef Aquaria and Octopus? Hi Bob, <reef aquarist and author, Anthony Calfo in your service> I have a quick, hopefully simple question for you regarding cephalopods. I have kept reef tanks for the past 10 years (?) or so now and had great success with several different types and themes. One of my earlier tanks was one for an octopus, O. bimaculoides, I believe. It did quite well but after a year or so it died,  <hmmmm... although short-lived, are you sure that it really did well. Specifically, you are confident that you cared for it in the final year of it's life as evidenced by a sudden and dramatic growth spurt (and egg laying before death for females). This is common physiology for many/most octopus. For example, if a given species has a natural lifespan of say 5 years and reaches a size of 18"... said specimen will live for about 4 years at 4-6" and experience a sudden growth spurt and drive to spawn in the final year before death. I mention this because most folks keep species in aquaria that are too warm and feed a single prey or limited diet and the animal dies within a year. No worries if this was true for you... I just want you to be informed> as expected, and I moved on to bigger things, corals and clams and such... Well, at the moment I've got a 2 year old 70 gallon tank with SPS corals and the odd soft coral to fill in some space, and. The other night I noticed that I've lost a clam (very upsetting) and I believe the culprit is a mantis shrimp.  <quite frankly, this is not at all likely the cause of death for the clam. Look for other possibilities as well. Was the mollusk fairly cleaned out? Doubtful. If so, a crab is more likely. If not, the most common predator are tiny pyramidellid snail infections> Well long story short, I thought a neat addition to the tank and a revisited to past interests as well as a solution to the mantis shrimp problem would be to add an octopus. My question to you is this, with their sensitivity to water chemistry, do you think this would be a viable addition to this tank. I would hate to kill it by putting in my additives for the corals... Well, let me know what you think. Thanks in advance, <although I believe that the reef additives are unlikely to amount to enough to kill an octopus, there are some metals used as trace elements that could impact the metal sensitive cephalopod. More importantly, I doubt that you will find a temperature tolerant species of octopus to live without a chiller. Our trade is dominated by tropical species that have a threshold at 76-78F. Warmer temps contribute to premature deaths. Although short-lived, most Octopus should still live for 3-5 years. I would strongly advise that you set up a proper species specific display for the octopus if you must keep one. A small chiller isn't a bad idea either. Most live better and longer closer to 70F. Anthony> Brian

Re: Quick question re: cephalopods Hmm, 3-5 years of life, really? All I've read, about this species any ways, suggests that they have a life span of about 1-1.5 years tops.  <hmmm... I should clarify, my friend. We are talking about the Two -spot "California mud flat" octopus... cited as being seasonal and occurring from Alaska to Baja. Even in Cal waters... we are hardly talking tropical temps here. This is the first obstacle for aquarists with even hardy species such as the O. bimaculoides. Many folks want to keep octopus, but few aquarists can/do invest in a chiller to keep such animals at even California water temperature (forget the more northern habitat of this seasonal species). And so, their natural lifespan is abbreviated, and reported life spans in popular literature are artifacts of elevated and unnatural temperatures. Not a crime, just an accelerated life cycle for a cold-blooded animal> I'll have to go back and look over my log books for then, to see what was happening but from what I recall it just sort of stopped eating (water quality was perfect cause I checked that whenever the behavior changed) and then after about a week or so (I think) it just died. I always just assumed that it was old age, but I suppose if they live longer than I had though, it could have been something else. As for the death of my clam that I mentioned the other day, you can add to that the death of two more.  <serious bummer, my friend> These weren't expensive ones, they'd come with the live rock, but still... The clams look fine one day and then the next morning they are just eaten clean out. Nothing remains but a cleaned out, white shell. Very frustrating. I'm not really sure what's causing this, but I yanked some of my live rock (a piece that seemed suspect but was easily extractable) and found that I do have mantis shrimp in the tank.  <with such dramatic slaughter... agreed shrimp or crab... although to play the odds, a crab has the edge> This rock had a 2+ inch basher in it, but I know he's not the only one in the tank cause after I got him I hear several other pops in the main tank. As for the additives, the only one that I was really worried about was "Marc Weiss's Black Powder". Stuff works really well on my corals, and the clams seemed to do well with it too, but I have little knowledge of what's actually in it and how it would affect an octopus. Well any ways, thanks for all your help. <do be very careful of adding products that do not list ingredients and cannot be tested for relative (read: good, bad or ugly) efficacy and concentration. Even sugar-based additives make corals look good for a while months) before things get complicated. Best regards, Anthony> Brian



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