Family Accidentally Ends Up With 50 Baby Octopuses After Their Pet—Thought to Be Male—Laid Dozens of Eggs

Now, the Oklahoma residents are working with aquariums and researchers that might take the babies

A California two-spot octopus in an aquarium tank
A two-spot octopus at the Aquarium of the Pacific in California. Female two-spot octopuses lay an average of 70,000 eggs. Brittany Murray / MediaNews Group / Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

A family in Oklahoma that had purchased a pet octopus accidentally ended up with dozens of the sea creatures on their hands, after an unexpected baby boom. Their pet turned out to be harboring fertilized eggs—leaving the family with 50 unexpected octopus babies.

Cameron Clifford’s 9-year-old son, Cal, had been begging for a pet octopus for years. Clifford tells USA Today’s Charles Trepany that Cal has asked for an octopus at every birthday, Christmas and major holiday since he was 2 years old. He has trick-or-treated as an octopus and had octopus-themed birthday parties.

“We really like to encourage our children’s interests,” Clifford says to Anita Snow of the Associated Press (AP). “It’s magical to see a kid embrace their dreams and bring them to fruition. Cal has been infatuated with the natural world and with marine biology since he was very little.”

Clifford finally acquiesced to his son’s pleas last year, buying a California two-spot octopus. In a video posted to TikTok, Clifford filmed Cal while showing him an aquarium he had purchased to hold the family’s future pet. The surprise moved Cal to tears. “You didn’t have to do this,” he sobs in the video.

The family properly calibrated the tank’s water before the octopus came to live with them, since the species is very sensitive to impaired water quality. On Cal’s ninth birthday last fall, the octopus—which he immediately named Terrance—arrived at the house via UPS delivery, swimming in a bag of water packaged inside a cardboard box.

At first, the Cliffords thought Terrance was male, but they were proven wrong when the dozens of eggs appeared, writes the Washington Post’s María Luisa Paúl.

California two-spot octopuses reach mating age between 1 and 2 years old, and while they can breed at any time of year, they primarily mate when temperatures are warmer in the summer, according to California Sea Grant.

The octopuses only mate once in their lifetimes—the male dies shortly after inseminating the female, and the female often dies from starvation or exhaustion during nesting. While watching over her eggs, a female octopus stops eating and self-mutilates.

Experts told the Cliffords that Terrance’s eggs couldn’t be fertilized, and the family hand-fed her while she protected what they thought were eggs that would never hatch, per USA Today.

But one night as Clifford was cleaning the tank, something strange happened when he picked up one of the eggs. “I accidentally popped it, and this droplet comes out and spreads out these tiny tentacles and does three swim strokes across my viewpoint,” Clifford says to the New York Times’ Michael Levenson. “It was absolutely shocking.”

Evidently, before the animal had been caught by a diver off the coast of California, she had bred with another octopus. The eggs were delivered late, because female octopuses can delay their eggs’ release until they feel safe, according to the Washington Post. The animal has a 150- to 210-day gestation period, per California Sea Grant.

As each of Terrance’s 50 eggs hatched, Clifford scrambled to care for the babies. He gave each one an individual container—to prevent them from eating each other—and spent hundreds of dollars each week on food. In all, Clifford estimates he has spent $3,000 to $4,000 on the octopuses in the past year, per USA Today.

Experts caution against members of the public keeping octopuses as pets.

“They don’t belong in human homes, full stop,” Barbara J. King, a William & Mary anthropologist, tells the New York Times.

Paul Clarkson, director of husbandry operations at California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium, ordinarily would have doubts about the welfare of any octopus being raised in a private home, he tells the Washington Post. But what the Cliffords have done is “pretty remarkable,” he adds.

Of the original 50 babies, 23 are still living, per the Washington Post. A family friend and reptile scientist has helped with caring for the young octopuses.

Even with constant care, few of the octopuses are likely to survive, Angelina Komatovich, a marine biologist at Orange Coast College, tells NPR’s Jordan-Marie Smith and Sarah Handel. “Only one or two of these would be expected to live into adulthood in an aquarium setting under perfect conditions,” she says to the publication.

Now, Clifford is working with aquariums and researchers who might be willing to take some of the surviving young octopuses. As for Terrance? She’s still alive, even four months after giving birth, per the AP.

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