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The Octopus Toy at Birch Aquarium

How the unnamed female octopus handles playtime
Object of Interest / Octopus Toy

Object of Interest / Octopus Toy

Michael Ready

Cats have yarn, dogs have tennis balls, and octopi go gaga over puppy toys. That is what’s happening here: It’s playtime for the Birch Aquarium’s unnamed female octopus.

Based on how she immediately engulfed the dog toy with her tentacles and took it straight to her beak, she’s not one bit skeptical of the object (it helps that it’s filled with blue crab meat, held in place by faux plants). The two-year-old giant Pacific octopus is just 10 pounds and hails from British Columbia, where she was caught as bycatch and then transferred to Birch for her upbringing. That includes daily playtime to keep her mind sharp.

To ensure she stays amused, her caretakers even use a calendar to track which “enrichment tool” she gets. There are about 20 toys to choose from, including toddler puzzles to solve, a good ol’ peanut butter jar to open, and even a Mr. Potato Head whose hindquarters get stuffed with seafood for the octopus to find. The only prerequisites for the items are that they must be saltwater-proof, chewable, and easy enough for, say, a three-year-old to disassemble.

Also, like a toddler with a short attention span, the octopus decides when playtime is up. Usually after 15 minutes, she’ll leave her toy for the taking or will stow it away in her habitat for safe keeping—kind of like a puppy hiding their treats. Cute as can be!

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