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A giant Pacific octopus with eight arms covered in round, grasping suckers spread out to feel its habitat.

Giant Pacific Octopus

“Giant” is the operative word here. The average arm span is 14 feet. With no bones to encumber it, however, this soft-bodied animal can slip through a hole no larger than its hard beak—2 inches or less. It’s also a master of camouflage, blending its color, texture and shape into the seascape to ambush fishes, crabs and other prey.

A close look at the closely-packed, round suckers on the tentacle of a giant Pacific octopus.
An octopus has eight arms, each covered in hundreds of independent suckers, which can feel and taste anything that the octopus encounters.

Got a grip

With eight arms, the giant Pacific octopus has the best grip of any animal at Shedd. But that’s not the whole story. Each arm has 280 suction cups, ranging from quarter-sized to smaller than this “o,” that are individually controlled to feel, grasp, release and rotate. In addition, chemical sensors in the suckers let the octopus taste and smell its environs. Two-thirds of the octopus’s nervous system is dedicated to the complex functions of its arms, including a minibrain at the base of each.

A giant Pacific octopus receives a large puzzle block toy as part of its enrichment.

Invertebrate intelligence

This big-brained relative of snails and slugs can navigate mazes, solve problems, remember, predict, use tools and take apart just about anything—all natural survival skills. At Shedd, we engage our resident giant Pacific octopus with regular training sessions that provide physical and mental activity. We also offer the octopus enrichment, including a variety of toys and favorite treats sometimes tucked into screw-top jars for the animal to open to encourage natural hunting behavior.

Eight weird and wonderful things about octopuses

Octopuses are one of those animal groups that beat science fiction to the punch: big-eyed, multi-armed, soft-bodied, shape-shifting and venomous, with intelligence that can match wits with us; alien, yet homegrown during the Earth’s Late Jurassic period, about 140 million years ago.

Join us to ponder eight stranger-than-fiction facts about octopuses (and yes, that’s the correct plural).

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The giant Pacific octopus can change the color and texture of its skin, going from smooth and red to spiky and mottled brown and white to blend into its habitat or communicate.