The Smithsonian

New Giant Pacific Octopus at Smithsonian’s National Zoo Needs a Name

Press Release   •   Nov 29, 2011 04:37 EST

The newest member of the charismatic cephalopod community at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo may only be the size of a grapefruit now, but he (or she) has some long arms to grow. On Nov. 4 the Zoo’s beloved giant Pacific octopus, Octavius, died at the old age of about 4 years, and a feisty new young octopus is now calling the Zoo home. The only problem? The new octopus needs a name. So the Zoo has teamed up with the Washington Post’s KidsPost in search of the most creative, fitting moniker for the new eight-armed ambassador of the oceans.

The new octopus is on exhibit in the Invertebrate Exhibit, which is open daily between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The daily octopus feeding at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. is one of the most popular animal demonstrations at the Zoo. 

Kids between the ages of 5 and 15 years of age can email their suggestions for a name to the KidsPost (kidspost@washpost.com) until 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 12. The entrants must put the word “octopus” in the subject line and provide a compelling explanation—no longer than 300 words—for their choice. The Zoo’s invertebrates keepers will pick four finalists based on their creativity and thoughtfulness, and those finalists will be invited to the Zoo to see the octopus pick its own name Saturday, Dec. 17, from a number of objects provided as enrichment. Each name will be placed in a colorful puzzle object and the octopus will select its name based on the object it picks. Octopuses are very intelligent animals and natural explorers and enrichment is an important part of their care at the Zoo. 

When selecting a name, entrants should consider the following information:

  • Giant Pacific octopuses can evade attackers by squirting ink and escaping while hidden by the ink cloud. This octopus continued to ink before leaving for the Zoo, but has not done so at the Zoo yet, according to its keepers, who describe the octopus as gregarious, feisty and curious.
  • Both Octavius and the new octopus come from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Giant Pacific octopuses live in the Northern Pacific Ocean ranging from southern California, north along the coast of North America’s Pacific northwest and south to Japan. They inhabit a wide range of depths, from shallow coastal waters to depths of at least 1,500 meters.
  • The new octopus is about 1.5 years old, which means that it is still too early to determine the animal’s sex. It will take time for the octopus to mature before the Zoo can do so.
  • The giant Pacific octopus is the largest octopus species in the world. They emerge from eggs only a little larger than a grain of rice, but as adults can weigh hundreds of pounds, with an arm span of more than 14 feet. Zoo keepers anticipate that the new octopus will grow to be more than 13 times its current size over the next year.
  • Octopuses are mollusks—related to squid, cuttlefish and nautiluses—and can change their color and texture instantly with a signal from their brains. The only hard part of their body is a small beak. They can fit their giant body through an opening just larger than their beak, which is about the size of walnut with its shell.
  • The new octopus will ultimately help the Zoo learn about special behaviors and octopus intelligence when staff and volunteers introduce enrichment items and observe whether the octopus becomes more active as a result.
  • The giant Pacific octopus feeds on bivalves, crabs and lobster, but will eat a range of species. They have even been observed eating fish, sharks and birds. 

“Octavius was such a charming animal in part because she wasn’t at all shy,” said Tamie DeWitt, the Invertebrate Exhibit’s biologist. “During her long and healthy life, she inspired such delight in those of us at the Zoo and in visitors to the Invertebrate Exhibit and webcam. We are certain that the new octopus will do the same in its own unique way and are looking forward to finding it just the right name.” For more details about how to enter a submission and to enter, visit the KidsPost’s website.

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Photo by Tamie DeWitt, Smithsonian’s National Zoo For images of the new octopus, visit the Zoo’s Flickr page.

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