Octopus walks on land

Perhaps you've heard the tale of the octopus that broke out of its tank at the aquarium and walked across the room to break into another tank where it proceeded to eat other forms of sea life.

That story is kind of an urban legend. It's supposedly happened at every aquarium in the world, but can't be confirmed. And experts have told me that the hard floors in an aquarium would likely seriously damage the suction pads of any octopus that tried it.

But the basic idea—that an octopus could pop out of the water and move across dry ground&dmdash;is a very real thing. Here, an octopus at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in California hauls itself out of the water, and scoots awkwardly around on land for a little bit (while some apparently Minnesotan tourists gawk), before sliding back into the water. It's not the most graceful sort of travel. But it can be very handy. Octopuses do this in nature to escape predators, and also to find food of their own in tidal pools.

As an added bonus: Scientific American just started an all-octopuses, all-the-time blog called The Octopus Chronicles. Check it out!

Video Link


  1. Not just an urban legend. Sy Montgomery’s article in Orion Magazine contained more than one tale of octopuses on dry land, including this one, where the animals didn’t just walk, but ran.

    Some would let themselves be captured, only to use the net as a trampoline. They’d leap off the mesh and onto the floor—and then run for it. Yes, run. “You’d chase them under the tank, back and forth, like you were chasing a cat,” Warburton said. “It’s so weird!”

    Here’s a link to the article: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/6474/

  2. I bet he couldn’t get back in the water fast enough to get away from those idiot yakky humans.

    Please someone replace the audio with some nice nature music and informative narration.

  3. Huh, I was sure I’d seen (staged) video of an octopus pulling the “leaving its own tank to enter a nearby crab tank” thing on a NOVA program or something. I know that doesn’t mean the original incident happened the way the legend describes but it would seem to show it was possible.

    1. I saw that too.  It may have been a staged video, but the possibility exists.  I remember it slithering through a tube and doing some climbing as well.

      Plus I’ve seen video of them learning by watching what other octopi do in other tanks, then replicating that behavior.  They’re clearly capable of identifying food and devising a plan to acquire it.

    1. That was my original thought, too, Wowbagger_etc. Especially at this time of year, the heavy rains bring a lot of PNW Tree Octopuses out of the branches as they stock up on squirrels and other small game for the winter.

  4. I just  fell in love with octop(usses/i/odes) all over again.  Could the “delightful creatures” tag used for this? I think it applies.

  5. Scientific American just started an all-octopuses, all-the-time…

    I’m sure you mean “Scientific American just started an all-octopodes, all-the-time…”

      1. Ah, but some pluralizations are more correct than others…

        Honestly, after being jokingly pedantic for the last year or so, I can barely even say “octopi” anymore.  I think there’s something about people who love the English language that they actively seek out irregular conjugation, pluralization, etc.

        1. Re pluralizations: I’m rather fond of the following joke:

          “Referendums”, or “Referenda”? Please vote your preference to help us decide.

  6. So, I heard something on NPR the other day, a story about octopuses and there was a person touching an octopus for the first time. It was an interesting segment, however at one point the zookeeper says that an octopus is red when they are freaking out/angry. Later in the segment they’re playing with an octopus and the reporter says something about how the octopus is red and the zookeeper says “well they just do that sometimes.” Anybody know for sure? Was the zookeeper just being nice the second time? Regardless, if the red thing is true, this octopus looks really scared.

  7. I, for one, welcome our new octopus overlords.

    There’s still a few hours left and that’s probably going to win the award for freakiest thing I see today. Between the land walking, tool use and camouflage, if octopodes decide to take us on we’re not going to be in for an easy time. ;)

      1. That I did not know. For some reason I had the assumption that they were fairly long lived creatures, not that assumption was based on anything factual.

  8. I was going to do the “I for one welcome our tentacled overlords.” bit but got beaten to it (I eventually noticed).

    So I’ll switch to pointing out that between octopi (or is it now officially octopuses?) demonstrating their deep and arcane knowledge (of the World Cup) and their walking on land, even as the oceans rise, the question is whether the future is H P Lovecraft or John Wyndham .

  9. I saw the same thing on Jeju Island!

    Except in this case, I suspect the octopus was captured by a seabird and dropped on land because it was too heavy… Don’t really know, we just stumbled on him taking a stroll across the rocks.

  10. Maybe, given a couple more hundred million years and a few climbs up the evolutionary ladder, we’ll lose our global dominance to a race of wickedly intelligent cephalopods.  Wouldn’t that be something?

  11. Maggie, did you miss the part where it deposited on shore the lifeless exoskeleton of a crab, like a gift?Or a warning.

    But more likely, just being tidy, the fussy dears.

  12. The video was almost over before I realized that I’d been muttering “C’mon…You can do it…Thattaboy… Come onnnn…” for a spell.

  13. If this octopus had instead been carrying coconut shells, as we’ve seen them do in other videos, we’d have a whole new swallow-free explanation for King Arthur’s horse-servant Patsy.

  14. it’s important to remember that incorrect or at least varied word and grammatical usage is the engine of colloquial speech and word invention. obvious grammar mistakes bother me too, but i think people who have pride in their grammar fascism really just need to find better outlets for their aggression because if people didn’t fuck up or disregard rules the world would not be very interesting, and i don’t limit that statement to language either.

  15. When we were kids we used to go down to the canal with a little net on a stick, and catch minnows, which we’d put in jam jars full of water and take home. One day I caught an eel as well, so once I got home I put the minnows in one jar, and the eel in a separate one, both in the bottom of the bath.

    When I got up next morning the eel’s jar was empty. The minnows’ jar contained no minnows: just a rather fat and self-satisfied looking eel.

    I wish I’d been able to watch that eel making its way across the bottom of the bath, out of the water, in the dead of night. It terrified me, so it was back to the canal with it, pronto.

  16. I don’t know if it ate anything but at the place I used to volunteer the octopus would break out in the middle of the night and scurry around on the tile floor. It’s standard for octopus enclosures to have astro turf around the opening nowadays to prevent octopus escapades.

    The best octopus aquarium story I’ve heard was of an individual that went through the pipes to eat crabs or something out of a different tank, and would then return to get its scheduled feeding.

  17. Jeez they are tenacious animals. Can anyone estimate the relative increase in apparent weight from water to land? It must be like pulling 4G’s or something.

    Also, Officer Barbrady at 3:03.

  18. i work at a caribbean marine life collection/distribution facility- octopus frequently “break out” and travel, especially in the pursuit of food. if kept in big jars they learn to unscrew the lid within hours.

    1. Then there’s the classic Octopus Learning experiment in which they are given treats in sealed jars, and quickly learn that the lid screws off, and has a clockwise thread – as can be demonstrated by giving them an otherwise identical treat-in-a-jar sealed with a counter-clockwise thread.

  19. I used to know a guy whose apartment was full of aquariums. He lived in a one-bedroom pad, but he had like ten or fifteen aquariums in the living room. And in one tank, he had an octopus, a little guy, like four inches long.
    And that octopus could climb into other fish tanks to hunt.
    I never saw it outside the tank myself, which is just fine by me, sea creatures kinda freak me out, and having one run around the room would probably be too much to take.
    But I did see it do a chameleon act! It could actually change color to match its surroundings, but being a creepy sea creature, its skin is normally translucent, so when the new pigment came in it was like watching a bottle fill with dark smoke. Gorgeous.

  20. At the Tsukiji Fish Market, I have seen live octopuses run off from their bins (or tables or stall displays).   I also saw live eels slither away but I think that they were just reacting to being out of the water and not necessarily seeking freedom.  (Eels do emerge from water in search of food:  in Hawaii eels come up out of the water and slither around on the rocks seeking food (like our fishing bait)).   A chomping, slithering eel will make you run a lot faster than a scooting octopus — probably because they have very large teeth that look more menacing than an octopus. 

  21. Hmmm   looks like octopi/octopodes/octopuses and cats have more in common than we thought, reminds me of my cats bringing some prey home and dropping it on the floor for us (02:10), just this time it’s an octopus and a crab

  22. WOW. When it raised itself up, presumably to get a look around to see where the water was, it literally took my breath away.

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