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Happy World Octopus Day!

Published October 08, 2014

In honor of World Octopus Day and Cephalopod Awareness Week, we're taking you behind the scenes with one of our favorite cephalopods: Cordelia, the National Aquarium’s giant Pacific octopus.

Giant Pacific octopus

With eight arms and an impressive IQ, the National Aquarium’s show-stopping cephalopod keeps guests—and aquarists—on their toes. Cordelia, whose name means “daughter of the sea,” resides on Level 3 of Blue Wonders: Reefs to Rainforests, where she’s frequently found nestled in the upper right corner of the cavernous, rocky space she calls home.

This is her den, a place that is clearly her domain as evidenced by her protective behavior and camouflaging efforts. Katie Webster, the National Aquarium aquarist who’s been caring for the exhibit for nearly two years, witnesses these defense mechanisms in action when she’s cleaning the gravel in the system. Cordelia will spread herself out and cover the whole area, gradually morphing her colors to match the rockwork below her.

Even though octopuses are nocturnal, you’re just as likely to find Cordelia in her eight-armed glory spread out in the exhibit during your visit. Personable and curious, she’s usually active most of the day—often giving guests an up-close view of her suction cups independently moving as she spreads out across the glass.

Giant Pacific octopus

What you won’t find, though, is another octopus in there. Cordelia is likely to eat any other octopus or fish that enter her territory, so sea stars and plumose anemones remain her sole roommates. She’s fed a diverse diet—fish shrimp, clams, crabs and squid six days per week—and entertains herself with an array of different toys each day. (One of her favorites is a little tugboat!)

Giant Pacific octopus

Cordelia also regularly completes puzzles, like a peanut butter jar with holes in it, complete with a treat. Once she solves it, she’s given another, more complex challenge to keep her nine brains—yes, nine—busy, healthy and happy.

It’s clear that giant Pacific octopuses are smart—smart enough even to outsmart their aquarists now and again. Webster recalls a time she was feeding Cordelia while giving a behind-the-scenes tour. “I went down to grab another piece, and there was no more food in there,” she says. “She had it in her arms. She had figured out where I kept her bin, and she had reached in, grabbed it and pulled it back out. They’re very smart, very intelligent creatures, so I had to learn to move the bin around.”

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An octopus can change the color and texture of its skin to match its surroundings!

It’s clear that giant Pacific octopuses are smart—smart enough even to outsmart their aquarists now and again. Webster recalls a time she was feeding Cordelia while giving a behind-the-scenes tour. “I went down to grab another piece, and there was no more food in there,” she says. “She had it in her arms. She had figured out where I kept her bin, and she had reached in, grabbed it and pulled it back out. They’re very smart, very intelligent creatures, so I had to learn to move the bin around.”

Want to learn more about the giant Pacific octopus? Click here.

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Giant Pacific Octopus

Giant Pacific Octopus