Legging it: Evasive octopus who has been allowed to look for love

A A A

Visitors to the Portobello Aquarium loved Sid the octopus but all Sid wanted was to find a mate. After several escape attempts worthy of Houdini, he finally tasted freedom yesterday, with his keepers returning him to the ocean just in time for Valentine's Day.

The aquarium, near Dunedin, on New Zealand's South Island, was Sid's home for the past six months. At first, he seemed quite content there. He would move around his tank, exploring his new environment, and would change colour, as octopuses do. But, shortly after Christmas, he developed itchy feet – or tentacles.

Matthew Crane, Portobello's senior aquarist, came in one morning to find Sid gone. Staff looked high and low. One of his tank's sliding plastic doors was ajar but it was not clear whether someone had left it open by mistake, or whether he had opened it himself. Five days later, he was found inside a drainage system that pumps sea water through the aquarium. He was trying to sidle out through a door.

A few weeks later, Sid made a second dash for freedom. Again, his door was found ajar. Located a few hours later, he made several more escape attempts, usually when his tank was being cleaned. Staff would see one tentacle emerge from the tank, then another. "We thought he must be actively seeking a mate," said Mr Crane. "So we decided it might be best to let him go back to nature."

Yesterday afternoon, Mr Crane transferred Sid to a plastic bucket and carried him to the water's edge, 300 yards away. Even during that short walk, Sid was trying to lift the lid off the bucket. Then he was ceremoniously dumped in the ocean. "We watched him swim away," said Mr Crane. "He was a good healthy colour and he looked quite happy."

Octopuses live for about two years, and breed towards the end of their life cycle. So Sid, who was about nine months old when caught, would be of an age now to be looking for love. Mr Crane wishes him every success. "He's a common octopus, so we're pretty confident he'll find a mate. It's a species that's often seen in the harbour."

Mr Crane said that Sid might have watched the door to his tank being opened often enough to figure out how to do it himself. Or, after it was left ajar the first time, he might have realised it was a means of escape. "An octopus is quite intelligent, so it's not beyond the scope of believability," Mr Crane said. "Some people compare them with dogs, because you can train them to open a jar, for instance, particularly if it's got a crab in it."

A few years ago, he said, crayfish kept disappearing from the aquarium. Staff were perplexed, and blamed impecunious marine biology students. Then, one night, one of Sid's predecessors was caught in the act. He climbed out of his tank, stole the crayfish, replaced the lid on the crayfish tank, then returned to his own tank, shutting the door behind him.

A research laboratory reported a similar story, with a security camera filming an octopus stealing fish from a neighbouring tank and then covering his tracks. Ten years ago, an octopus escaped from the same tank that housed Sid, and was found halfway up a staircase. He was nicknamed Harry, after Harry Houdini. Octopus, like squid, have courtship rituals, which include changing colour. Mr Crane said he had seen squid "split themselves in half, colour-wise, with one half an attractive light colour to appeal to a mate and the other half an aggressive dark red colour to chase away other males".

The aquarium has put out fresh pots to catch a replacement for its wandering would-be Lothario.

The clever clogs of the ocean floor

*Octopuses are considered to be one of the most intelligent marine species. Their brain is the largest and most advanced of any invertebrate.

*Until recently, it was widely believed that they had eight arms. However, last year a European study discovered that they actually have six arms and two legs. They use their rearmost tentacles to push off from the surface of the sea bed before propelling themselves through the water with the other limbs.

*During the same experiment, it was discovered that the animals could perform complex tasks with their arms, such as manipulating a Rubik's cube. Uniquely, octopuses have more than half their nerves in their arms and even partially think with them.

*It is believed that an octopus's memory and learning capabilitycan be compared in complexity to that of advanced vertebrates – a number of octopuses have been taught to unscrew jars or bottles to get at food.

Suggested Topics
News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
News
i100
Sport
footballLatest scores and Twitter updates
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties