The coconut octopus gets its unique name from the way it makes dens out of discarded and hollowed out coconut shells found in muddy waters along the coastal seafloor.
The coconut octopus is usually 3 inches (8 centimeters) long, extending to 6 inches (15 centimeters) long including the arms which usually feature light colored suckers to contrast with the overall dark colors of the rest of the octopus.
Though named for their use of coconuts as tools for defense, the coconut octopus can also use clam shells, depending on their size. Although further research is recommended, scientists believe that this species may suffer from the effects of heavy fishing, which could include habitat destruction or bycatch from fisheries targeting other species.2
The shells the coconut octopus gathers can also be used as dens or “defensive fortresses” to conceal themselves. For example, researchers in Indonesia have filmed an octopus collecting coconut half shells laying in the mud along the seafloor, which were then carried about 66 feet (20 meters) and then constructed into a shelter.1 The octopus will carry a shell with it while searching for another, testing several as it scavenges like a Colorful Hermit Crab might.3
Like bobtail squids, the coconut octopus can bury itself in the sand or mud with only its eyes uncovered as a secondary defensive measure.4
Unfortunately, sometimes coconut octopuses mistake plastic trash in our oceans as burrows. Man-made discarded objects can also be found in the sand and mud where they forage for protective shells. An estimated 17.6 billion pounds of plastic enters our oceans every year. Add your name now to protect octopuses and defend our oceans from plastic pollution.
1. Believed to be one of only two octopuses capable of bipedal locomotion, which means moving by two limbs similar to how human beings walk.
2. Adults usually die shortly after reproduction.
3. Females lay about 100,000 eggs about 3 mm long.
4. Embryos hatch as small as plankton and remain that small for some time before growing into adults.
5. Coconut octopuses will often carry and use trash as their protective tool.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.
2. IUCN Redlist
3. Sealife Base