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Explore an octopuses garden in the shade in the Aquarium at Mote

Visitors to the Aquarium at Mote Marine Laboratory are accustomed to seeing amazing things, including tiny Caribbean pygmy octopuses “dancing” on a pencil eraser, which garnered mentions all over the place, including Scientific American and NBC's TODAY show. Now, Cephalopod Specialist Brian Siegel is once again tending to some eight-tentacled babies behind the scenes.

A baby Caribbean pygmy octopus (Octopus mercatoris) that hatched behind the scenes in The Aquarium Mote Marine Laboratory and made big news in March is shown alongside a baby Caribbean reef octopus (Octopus briareus) from eggs that continue to hatch.
Mote Marine Laboratory, used with permission

This time, he’s raising a different — but only slightly larger — species called a Caribbean reef octopus (Octopus briareus). So far, Siegel has had 16 eggs hatch, with more expected from mom, who’s still brooding over them.

At about the size of a dime, O. briareus is slightly larger at hatch than O. mercatoris. The adults are bigger, too; briareus grows to about the size of a baseball, but mercatoris is only about the size of a golf ball. Babies of both species are fully formed when they hatch and don’t receive any additional tending-to from mom.

Both species are nocturnal and favor reefs and rocky outcroppings where they can safely stay out of the way of the many things in the ocean that are bigger and brawnier than they are — sharks are among the animals that prey on them. Both prey on small bottom-dwelling vertebrates (like small crabs and shrimp.)

Octopuses are also masters of disguise — both these species have special cells in their skin called chromatophores that allow them to change their color and texture. Because they're so cryptic, neither species will be on display in The Aquarium until they are able to develop a new way to showcase these animals, which prefer to stay hidden and can fit into some very small spaces.

In the meantime, visitors are invited to visit our special exhibit, Survivors: Beautiful and Extreme Adaptations, which features a blue-ringed octopus and the flamboyant cuttlefish, that also have chromatophores and can change colors at will. Survivors is open through Sept. 14 and is free with regular admission.

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