Octopuses & other Cephalopods 

Octopuses belong to the class of marine molluscs known as the Cephalopoda.

Cephalopoda contains the nautiluses; cuttlefishes, squids, and octopuses.

1)  They are the most advanced of all the invertebrates.
2)  They move by jet propulsion, squirting water from a funnel.
3)  They are the most intelligent of the invertebrates, with a capacity for learning.
4)  Most of them are able to eject ink to confuse predators.
5)  Most of them have a remarkable ability to change colour.
6)  They have arms with suckers which they use to capture prey. (Octopuses have eight arms, squids have ten).
7)  They have a hard beak to tackle prey with hard shells like crabs.
8)  Their heyday was 100 million years ago in Cretaceous times when Ammonites were plentiful in the oceans of Earth.
9)  Although they are molluscs, most of them have evolved to have only a diminished internal shell (the cuttlebone of the cuttlefish), or have lost their shell completely (octopus).
10) The Giant Squid, Architeuthis, is the largest invertebrate known, and stretched out with its tentacles included, it has attained 18 metres in length. Even larger specimens may await to be discovered in the deepest oceans.

Identification guide for shelf cephalopods in the UK waters (North Sea, the English Channel, Celtic and Irish Seas) Link


Curled Octopus (Photograph by Peter Tannett)

Curled Octopus, Eledone cirrhosa

Curled Octopus, Eledone cirrhosa
Photograph by Peter Bardsley

The Curled (or Lesser) Octopus, with a single row of suckers, is the species most likely to be found the British Isles, with a highly variable presence. In some years we receive reports throughout the year and in other years reports are few and far between. This octopus preys on crabs and other crustaceans and can even enter lobster pots to consume the catch.
St Abbs Marine Life Gallery
by Peter Bardsley on flickr

Click on the swimming octopus for the gallery of more undersea life from St. Abbs, Berwickshire, SE Scotland.

St. Abbs Diving

When disturbed octopuses will swim backwards rapidly by jet propulsion.


6 June 2018

Common Octopus
Octopus vulgaris
Photograph Gallery by Philip Shinton

At the depth of ten metres off the Dorset coast I discovered my first Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, in thirty years of diving. This was a very large octopus, at tip to tip about two metres long and his head was about double the size of a rugby ball. It seemed about as big as me.  Octopuses are usually nocturnal, but this one was active in the daytime.

Report by Philip Shinton on UK Cephalopod Reports  facebook

The Common Octopus is most easily identified, if discovered in the English Channel, by having two rows of suckers. A hearsay reports says they were all wiped out in the cold winter of 1963. This octopus is a southern species at its northern biogeographical limit in winter off British coasts.

22 October 2017
Quickly following on was storm "Brian" with gale force winds up to Force 9 around the British Isles with various creatures washed up on the shore, including a large whale under the cliffs at Flamborough, Yorkshire.
Other notable strandings occurred included hundreds of young Curled Octopuses, Eledone cirrhosa, (also called the Lesser Octopus with a single line of suckers) found on the shore at Trefor, Llýn Peninsula, north Wales and many areas over a widespread coasts of Wales including Aberystwyth and Telacre as well as the north Devon coast and further afield as well.

"Loads of young Curled Octopuses, Eledone cirrhosa, were washed up at Treforbeach, north Wales, after the storm. I managed to put all the stranded ones I saw back in the water."

Photograph & Report by Emlyn Matulla
on Beachcombing  facebook
Curled Octopuses are orange when alive and healthy but will lose their colour under stress before they die out of the water. This one was discovered on the shore at Crow Point, Braunton, north Devon. 
Photograph by Sue Smith
Octopus changing colour (video link) by Gordon Hughes
Beach Stuff Octopus Report
Lesser Octopus in Dogbay (UWPhoto)
Beach Stuff: Octopus Interactive Map (Wales)
 25 March 2012
Discovered stranded by the receeding equinoctial spring tide, this Lesser Octopus, Eledone cirrhosa, was high and dry at Llandudno on the north Wales coast.. I dug a shallow depression underneath it which filled with water, allowing it to breath. Initially the pupil was almost closed, but got larger after about ten minutes.
"I was amazed how it could change colour and shape, and the feeling of the tentacles gripping my fingers was quite strange. Anyway, after a brief photoshoot, I'm happy to say she was free to carry on chasing crabs and lobsters."
Report and comments by David Hill
on flickr

5 December 2009
A Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, was washed up dead on Salthouse Beach, North Norfolk after a week of strong northerly winds and quite rough seas, resulting in a variety of finds along the shoreline. The octopus was found by local diver Rowley Nurse whilst walking his dog along the shore.

Report by Helen Nott on the Norfolk Seaquest Yahoo Group
Norfolk Seaquest

9 July 2009
Commercial crab and lobster fisherman Clive Brown brought me a live Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, which he landed in one of his pots to the north-west of Les Hanois Lighthouse , south-west of Guernsey, Channel Islands, at 10:00 am. This octopus was missing one arm. The injury had healed.

All reports of Octopus vulgaris in Channel Island waters are of interest because of their virtual disappearance after the cold winter of 1962/ 1963. They began to re-appear in small numbers several years ago and then disappeared again. Clive Brown reports one being caught in the same location as his capture by another fisherman five years ago. They may move in from deeper water to the west of Guernsey.
Octopus vulgaris has two rows of suckers per arm and grows to a much larger size than Eledone cirrhosa, which has one row of suckers per arm.

Report, Photographs © & Comments by Richard Lord (Guernsey)
Sealord Photography
Previous Report

5 June 2009
Commercial fisherman Rick Ferbrache caught a Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, one mile off the Rousse headland, off the north-west coast of Guernsey.

All reports of Octopus vulgaris in Channel Island waters are of interest because of their virtual disappearance after the cold winter of 1962/ 1963.  They began to re-appear in small numbers several years ago and then disappeared again.  Clive Brown reports one being caught in the same location as his capture by another fisherman five years ago.  They may move in from deeper water to the west of Guernsey.
Octopus vulgaris has two rows of suckers per arm and grows to a much larger size than Eledone cirrhosa, which has one row of suckers per arm.
Report & Comments by Richard Lord (Guernsey)
Sealord Photography

1 March 2009
An unusual octopus was captured in a shallow water net off Brittany, France, by Nick Praed on the "Silver Dawn" fishing out of Newlyn, Cornwall.

Richard Young from Hawaii suggested Haliphron atlanticus.

Yes, I concur with Dick that that looks like a Haliphron.  It's pretty shallow for a Haliphron.  Normally they hang out somewhere between 200 and 2000 metres (not that we have huge amounts of data for them).  There are quite a few records for western Atlantic and fewer for eastern Atlantic but I think that's probably a reflection of research effort rather than anything else.  There was quite a large one caught of the west of Ireland last year.  The females grow very large (see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1898313.stm for a huge specimen caught off New Zealand) and the Irish one was a relatively big one and made the local press.  I tried to find the web page for you by googling but unfortunately I can't find it.
There's a bit of info on the occurrence of this species further north:
Collins, M.A., Brown, E. & Pierce, G.J., 1995. The octopus Haliphron atlanticus Steenstrup in Shetland waters. Shetland Naturalist, 1, 123-124.
They're interesting little things and not a whole lot is known about them.  Males are very small: your specimen may well be a male.  You can tell by the arms.  Like other cephalopods they have a modified third arm in the male for delivering sperm, but in Haliphron it's kept in a little sac under the eye, so males look like they've only got 7 arms, instead of the regulation 8.  It's this character that is one of the reasons we know it's related to other weird cephalopods such as Agonauta (also known as the Paper Nautilus), Ocythoe and Tremoctopus (the blanket octopus).
Dr Louise Allcock
Co-editor, Journal of Natural History
Adjunct Lecturer, Martin Ryan Marine Science Institute, Galway
Honorary Senior Lecturer, Queen's University Belfast
+353 (0)91 495868

Report and Photographs by Doug Herdson
The following paper collates most of the previously known records of this species from the NE Atlantic:
Collins, M.A., C. Lordan, K. Flannery, D.T.G. Quigley & F.G. Howard 1997. New records of cephalopods caught in Irish and Scottish waters. Journal of the Marine Biological Association, UK, 77:561-564.
Information from Declan Quigley

NAFC Marine Centre: 7-armed Octopus

13 February 2009
Three Curled Octopus, Eledone cirrhosa, were caught by commercial fisherman Shane Petit from on one of the Casquet banks to the west of Alderney in the Channel Islands. Shane Petit caught another Eledone cirrhosa on Longue Bank
south of Sark on 7 February 2009.  He found another one in the stomach of a Conger Eel he caught the same day off St. Martin's Point, Guernsey. He caught a third one whilst fishing on the Casquets bank on the night of the 12 February 2009.
This octopus is scarce in the Channel Islands but a common species in the seas north of the English Channel. The southern species, the Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, which grows much larger, plagued Guernsey shellfish fisheries until its demise locally during the cold winter of 1962 - 1963.

Report & Comments by Richard Lord (Guernsey)
Sealord Photography

3 Match 2008
hexapus, or six-legged version of the Lesser or Curled Octopus, Eledone cirrhosa, was captured in a lobster pot off the coast of north Wales and put on show at the Anglesey Sea Zoo. It was only then it was discovered to have only six legs instead of the normal eight, and this may have a result of a birth defect rather than an accident. It was been claimed as a world's first as nobody seems to discovered one before. Its fame meant it was transferred to the Blackpool Sea Life Centre to attract a bigger audience.

BBC News Report (2)
BBC News Report (1)
Yahoo News Report
16 January 2008
A Lesser or Curled Octopus, Eledone cirrhosa, was caught off Anglesey on rod and line in 40 ft of water, 50 metres or so from the shore at mid-tide. It was caught on dead fish bait for Whiting and Codling. It was slightly smaller than the size of a fist.
Report by Andrew Caine (Warrington)
October 2005

Lesser Octopus (Photograph by Roger Young)

In Saundersfoot, south Wales we found a Lesser or Curled Octopus, Eledone cirrhosa. It was very much alive and although stranded by the receding tide, when placed in a nearby deep rock pool where it became quite active, changing colour.

 Report by Roger M Young

21 March 2002
About twenty dead Lesser Octopuses, Eledone cirrhosa, were scattered over a stretch of about 200 metres of  Killiney beach, Co. Kerry, Ireland. The tentacles/arms were about 15 cm long.

Report by Leo Dungan sent in by Jim Wilson (University of Dublin)


Curled Octopus (Photograph by Helen Nott)

17 November 2001
A Curled Octopus was discovered by Helen Nott on Heacham Beach, Norfolk, In this clear photograph, you can see the single row of suckers. The Common Octopus has a double row.

15 October 2000
A Curled Octopus over 1 kg in weight was caught off Roker Pier, near Sunderland, NE England.

15 May 1999
 Dr Peter Tannett discovered the photographed Curled Octopus whilst on a field meeting with the Yorkshire Naturalists' Union on rocks just above low water at Ravenscar, North-east Yorkshire on Saturday 15 May 1999.

18 November 2002
The same fisherman who caught the Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, on 30 October 2002 caught an even larger one, which weighed in at  6740 grams.  It was captured alive and placed in the Guernsey Aquarium but it failed to survive.
Photograph by Richard Lord (Copyright protected throughout the World)
                                          Common Octopus
                                         Photograph  ©  by Richard Lord (Guernsey)
Dr. Daniel Latrouite (IFREMER Centre de Brest) wrote:
Octopus vulgaris which had disappeared from French-English Channel and north of Biscay Bay after February 1963 are effectively re-expanding in these areas. Since 4 or 5 years potters from south Brittany and west Brittany (Le Conquet) catch more and more octopuses, often very big, and can find their pots de-baited. North Brittany: a potter from Plougasnou told me his octopus landings
were about 20 kg last year and over 300 kg this year (March to August). Octopus vulgaris is clearly a predator on lobster and spider crabs.
Report by Richard Lord (Guernsey)
via the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group

Three Common Octopuses were also reported from Cornwall during the first weeks of November 2002.

Report from Stella Turk on the Cornish Mailing List
30 October 2002
A Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, was caught this morning in a crab pot to the south-east of St. Martin's Point, Guernsey.
The live octopus will be weighed and measured and taken to the Guernsey Aquarium.
The male Octopus vulgaris caught on the morning of October 30 off the south-east coast of Guernsey died overnight.  It was missing left arm two.  It weighed 5010 grams and had a total length of 91 cm.  Mantle length was 21 cm.  The beak to the tip of left arm four measured 71 cm.
I have heard that Octopus vulgaris is causing losses in the Bay of Biscay crab fishery this year.
Report by Richard Lord (Guernsey)
via the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group

4 October 2002
A Guernsey fisherman caught a large Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, in a crab pot about half a mile from Hanois Lighthouse off the south-western tip of Guernsey.  The octopus had devoured at least two edible crabs and one lobster.  The fisherman estimated the total length at about 1.5 metres and the tentacle length at 1 metre.  He estimated the weight at 4.5 to 5.5 kg (10 to 12 lb).  He returned the octopus to the sea.
Another Guernsey fisherman caught a large Octopus vulgaris in July 2002.
Sea surface temperatures at the entrance to St. Peter Port harbour, Guernsey have been about 1.5° C warmer since early August than the average sea surface temperature for the last 20 years.  The sea at the entrance to St. Peter Port harbour has been warmer in every week this year than the average temperature for the past twenty years. The highest sea temperaure occurred on 2 October 2002 at 17.8° C compared to the mean of 16.7° C.

Report by Richard Lord (Guernsey)
via the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group

13 August 2002
One large Octopus vulgaris was caught south of Plymouth and landed on the Plymouth Fish Market.

May 2002
A Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, was caught three quarters of a mile at Chapel Point off Mevagissey, Cornwall, and presented to Mevagissey Harbour Marine Aquarium.

Report by Chris Gilbertson (Mevagissey Harbour Aquarium)

25 March 2002
A Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, in Plymouth Fish Market. This one was not notified, so maybe they are getting commoner in the seas off the south-west?

Two Reports by Doug Herdson (National Marine Aquarium at Plymouth)
via the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean Group

31 October 2001
Fisherman Steve Long caught a Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, off the Cornish coast off Coverack in deepish water at about 75 metres (40 fathoms). This warm water octopus is now only rarely discovered in the English Channel, although within just about living memory it was commoner. This species was identified by Paul Gainey and it will go to the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay.

Report by Stella Turk via the Cornish Wildlife Mailing List

October 1998

                             A large Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, was brought into Plymouth Aquarium. It
                             was believed to have been caught off the extreme south-west of Cornwall. The
                             Common Octopus has been rare in British seas for nearly 40 years, apparently since the
                             cold winter of 1963.
                             The Looe boats also brought in a Squid measuring over 2 metres from the beak to the
                             tail, excluding the tentacles. The species was not identified. (Jon Makeham Report).

25 June 1999
A Common Octopus, Octopus vulgaris, was seen by a diver off off Dodman, Cornwall (SX 0039). It was a metre across. Common Octopuses are only rarely discovered even off the south-western coasts. However, in the past, before the cold winter of 1963, they may have been commoner.

Discovery Report by Doug Herdson. (National Marine Aquarium at Plymouth).
Notes by Andy Horton.
On Monday, November 16, 1998 two Guernsey fishermen found Octopus vulgaris in one of their pots along with one Edible Crab.  The pot was fishing about ten miles south of St. Martin's Point, Guernsey.  The fishermen estimated the Octopus at about 20 lb. and three feet long.  They told me it definitely had two rows of suckers.

On February 2, 1999 I picked up a specimen of Octopus vulgaris from a local crab fisherman who was potting a few miles south-east of Guernsey. The octopus weighed 4051 grams but Right arm III and IV were missing part of their length and Left arm I, II, III, & IV were missing part or all of their length.  Total length of octopus to tip of right arm I was 129 cm.

These are the only two Octopus vulgaris I have come across during my 6 years in Guernsey although there may have been a couple of other local captures.

Report by Richard Lord (Guernsey)
More Information (John Liddiard External Site)

Wikipedia Octopus vulgaris

Octopus species
Identification guide for shelf cephalopods in the UK waters (North Sea, the English Channel, Celtic and Irish Seas)

Squid Eggs masses (Sussex coast)
Cornish Marine Wildlife Reports 1999 (by Ray Dennis)
Cornish Marine Wildlife Reports 2000 (by Ray Dennis)
Cornish Marine Wildlife Reports  2001 (by Ray Dennis)

Largest British Squids

3 January 2002
A deep water trawler after Blue Ling and Hake etc. caught a female Giant Squid, Architeuthis dux, amongst the large haul of fish. With a mantle length of 127 cm it is a medium-sized specimen with some of the tentacles missing. Therefore, the total length could not be measured, but it is estimated to be about 5.5 metres with a weight of about 60 kg. the specimen will be prepared for display at the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth, Creatures of the Deep' zone from May 2002.
This is believed to be the 25th Architeuthis recorded in British waters since 1673.  Fifteen have been stranded on the shores of the British Isles, nine caught in fishing gear and one found in the stomach of a Sperm Whale.

Report from Doug Herdson (National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth)
via the Marine Wildlife of the North-east Atlantic Ocean YahooGroup
Giant Squid:  Full Report
Aberdeen University Giant Squid site (by Dr Martin Collins)

There have been nineteen species of Architeuthis described but it is unlikely that there are more than seven, and most recent work suggests that there are three species - Architeuthis dux in the north Atlantic, Architeuthis martensi or japonica in the northern Pacific and Architeuthis sanctipauli in the Southern Ocean.  However DNA studies have so far been carried out on only two specimens, one from New Zealand and one from Newfoundland (Atlantic coast of Canada), and the results so far published show no significant differences between them.

According to the Guinness Book of Records 1991, the largest squid found in British seas was an Architeuthis monachus found at the head of Whalefirth Voe, Shetland Isles on 2 October 1959. Its total length was measured at 7.31 metres (24 ft).

However, details of this record may be called into question as it is included in the List of British & Irish Strandings in year 1949 with a mantle length of 1.2 metres.
On this list the largest measured specimen had a mantle length of 1.75 metres and was stranded in Cove Bay, Aberdeen on 8 January 1984. (My estimate of the total length would be nearer 6.7 metres or 22 ft.)

The world's largest species is Architeuthis dux.

Molluscs Page

Octopuses is the correct plural in English (UK) as both the prefix and the suffix are Greek. However, John Steinbeck uses octopi so in English (American) the alternative could be used.

Architeuthis: News Report
Architeuthis: the Giant Squid
Full Report (Aberdeen University)

Bobtail Squid, Rossia macrosoma.

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