The Thoughtful Aquarist: The Comprehensive Handbook to Successful Marine Care and Maintenance for the Discerning Hobbyist Justine McNulty Macro-Fiction

map The Thoughtful Aquarist: The Comprehensive Handbook to Successful Marine Care and Maintenance for the Discerning Hobbyist

by Justine McNulty

Published in Issue No. 245 ~ October, 2017

Re: TTA 2016 Edits




Dear Andrew,

At long last, here they are: the additions to be included in the 2016 printing! I’m sorry that it’s taken me a bit to get them to you. Although they’ve been completed for some time, I was at the National Oceanography Convention in Sacramento until late Sunday night and couldn’t find a spare moment to send them your way! I know you’ve said not to worry about the timing, but I am just so excited for the much-anticipated second edition to finally be shipped off to the editor’s table!


The additions/changes I have included as a series of attachments to this email include but are not limited to: new, up-to-date feeding/lighting regiments/guidelines, altered acclimation and indoctrination procedures, and generally updated information pertaining to ichthyological insights and inquiries (one of which I am particularly excited about, but I won’t spoil it for you!! ☺ ). Please consider these edits/additions for the new printing and let me know if you have any questions/concerns about them. I look forward to hearing from you!





PS—I do hope you truly consider some of the larger additions I’ve included here. I know you’ve hinted in the past that you don’t think the casual hobbyist will be particularly interested in them, but please, try to trust me (and, as you and I both know, this guidebook is not for the average collector)!


2016: 2nd Edition Edits

The Thoughtful Aquarist: The Comprehensive Handbook to Successful Marine Care and Maintenance for the Discerning Hobbyist

By Rosemary Anne Crane


Introduction: Updated/Edited Version

***I know that during our last phone conversation you said that this section doesn’t need any updating, Andrew, but I thought of a few more things to say and I just feel they’re too important to leave out. I’ll leave the final call up to you though, of course!! ☺ The majesty, serenity, and complexity of marine aquariums is a pleasure I have enjoyed all of my adult life. There is much to be learned on the subject of marine care and maintenance, and a vast realm of ichthyological wonders to explore. These delicate, multifarious ecosystems are wonderful additions to any home or office, but they are not mere pieces of art to be admired—far from it! They require knowledge, sacrifice, and of course: a nurturing, inquisitive nature.

This level of expertise does not come overnight, but is in fact a lifelong journey of discovery and intrigue. I hope to help you in this journey in becoming a skillful, attentive aquarist. I am thrilled and humbled to join you on your voyage. Think of this book as your fearless guide, the ubiquitous ally in your quest, one that will lead you to a thriving, successful bionetwork.

Respectfully Yours,

Rosemary A. Cran

Updates for Chapters

Chapter 1: Preparing for Your New Animal: Acclimation/Introduction Tips & Tricks

***I know we had some complaints/near lawsuits relating to some of the information I supplied originally regarding eel acclimation, so I’d like to correct that first and foremost (although I do maintain that I, personally, did not contribute to these: even the most novice hobbyist should understand general eel maintenance/care, but that aside). I am just going to list these additions for you here, Andrew, and you can place them where you see fit.

In regards to Moray Eel acclimation/introduction (maybe place this after the Eel section as an afterward or endnote?): The Japanese Dragon Eel is, as the informed hobbyist knows, quite the rare find within the trade and are not for the casual aquarist. They require at least a 125-gallon enclosure with plenty of live rock to provide them with multiple cavernous refuges in which they may conceal their entire bodies1. Although these eels are breathtakingly beautiful creatures, they can be a territorial, aggressive species in general and are to be treated with care and respect. It is common knowledge—and rather self-evident—that eels need LARGE enclosures with other fish/creatures that are tough, agile, and generally plucky in nature.
All of that being said, I previously stated that Japanese Dragon Morays were thought to be compatible with the more common, docile Jeweled Moray (among a few other, smaller species) but this, unfortunately, turned out not to be the case. To err on the side of caution, I will say now that Japanese Morays are NOT to be housed with any other eels. They are best kept with large, equally (if not more so) aggressive tank mates that cannot fit in their mouths.

Important note for the community at large (possibly added as an appendix to the chapter, or perhaps after the section concerning bottom feeders/cleaners?): I have been reading on many blogs/personal websites in the last few years that hobbyists are purchasing/trading info on “micro-breed” horseshoe crabs. Let me be clear—there is NO SUCH THING as a “mini” or “micro” horseshoe crab! ALL horseshoe crabs2 will reach a foot across and up to two feet long! All four common home-aquarium species (Limulus polyphemus, Tachypleus gigas, Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda, and Tachypleus tridentatus) can reach these lengths. If you are considering purchasing a horseshoe crab for your home aquarium, please make sure you have the room for such a creature and prepare your reef/tank adequately!


Chapter 3: Species Specifics: Giant Pacific Octopus

***Okay, Andrew, this is the section I was hinting at in the beginning! I know this is a tricky breed, but hear me out on this. I heard a man named Herbert Van Hoff give a wonderful presentation on Giant Pacific Home Care at The International Aquarist Convention in Germany this past summer, and it is something I think our readers would take a vast interest in.

I also had absolute privilege to spend time in Dr. Van Hoff’s home this past summer during my visit for the convention (which is why I was out of the office for so many weeks!), and was able to interact with and care for a number of his personal GP companions, and I must say, the experience was an absolute delight. Also, it gave me much needed personal experiences I can use to validate my recommendations to this very chapter!

While it is not quite legal to house GPs in the US of A, by the time this edition comes out, I think the proper legislations will be passed (the paperwork is already in the works—exciting!! ☺).

As you, my fellow marine enthusiasts, are well aware, octopuses are becoming an increasingly popular addition to home aquariums. They are intelligent, compassionate creatures that demand a heavy amount of care and maintenance. And, as you also know, I have a soft spot in my ichthyological heart for cephalopods of all kinds and have owned many octopuses myself over the years. As the co-presenter of the Cephalopod Care and Maintenance Panel three years at the National Oceanography Convention in Sacramento, CA and an attendee of Germany’s International Aquarist Convention for twelve years running, I have come to know a thing or two about ceph care and hope that you will consider this new, exciting breed’s debut onto the personal aquarium scene.

Maybe some of you have had some experience with cephalopods in your marine ecosystems, but if you have not, you may want to flip back to page 97 and take a look at the section on the Octopus bimaculoides, or the California Two-Spot Octopus, arguably the simplest species to care for and often referred to as “the beginner’s ceph”. Other popular dwarf breeds include Octopus mercatoris (Caribbean Dwarf), Octopus briareus (Caribbean Reef), and Abdopus aculeatus (Algae or Bi-pedal). These are a few more beginner-level octopuses, the last of which is a relative newcomer to that crowd and to the marine hobbyist in general.

But, back to the ceph at hand. The Giant Pacific, or Enteroctopus dofleini, is indigenous to the coastal North Pacific and can be found both in intertidal regions and depths of up to 6,600 ft. The Giant Pacific (or GP, as I will reference it in the following pages) is well adapted to cold, oxygen-rich waters and is thought to be largest of the octopus family, the heaviest on record having reached 165 lb. On average, however, this species only reaches about 33lb., so don’t be alarmed! Their arm span at this weight is about 14ft., so they are still not to be taken lightly even at this relatively smaller size.

Now, you may be thinking, how on earth am I to keep a Giant Pacific Octopus in my own home? But, dear reader, allow me to explain. While attending the Giant Pacific Home Care Panel at the most recent aforementioned International Aquarist Convention in Hamburg, I was given the opportunity and privilege to interact with some of these magnificent creatures firsthand. Dr. Herbert Van Hoff—renowned author of Articulated Intelligence: The Elegance and Brilliance of the Giant Pacific Octopus and well-known trailblazer in the ceph world—invited me into his own home to observe and care for his personal ceph companions over a number of weeks. Although they demand an expert’s attention and care, the rewards are well worth the relative difficulty of their care. Much of my discussion concerning these creatures and their housing, diet, care, and maintenance come from my observation of and interactions with Dr. Van Hoff and his beloved GPs3, experiences upon which I shall elaborate on in the following sections in the form of footnotes.

Their diet mostly consists of small crustaceans such as shrimp, crabs, clams, and scallops. Be sure to find a reliable source of food for your octopus before purchase—and the seafood counter at the grocery store simply will not do! Octopuses are quite sensitive to pH and nitrate levels, so it is best to purchase food only from certified marine vendors to ensure that it has been handled/sanitized in the correct ways as to not disturb these levels within your tank4. GPs are to be offered food daily, but do not fret if they do not take it with each feeding. Octopuses can be fickle eaters and may go days or even weeks without touching their crustaceans. This should not be a concern unless other depressive behaviors have been noted.

These are quite large cephs, and thus need to be kept in large tanks. Many aquariums that are open to the public keep Giant Pacifics in tanks of 300 gal or fewer. This simply will not do! Your GP needs at least 1000 gals, ideally 1500-20005. The water temp should be kept well below the recommended for other, more common octopus breeds (mid-upper 70s), around 45-55 degrees Fahrenheit. This is quite a shocking temp, I am aware, and one in which most if not all home-marine creatures would not survive. Your GP will need special roommates if you wish to give him or her any at all. There are a number of corals, live rock, shrimp, starfish, and anemones that can withstand these temps, which I detail in Chapter 5.

As with all octopuses, GPs need a cave or shelter in which to hide during the daylight hours. If you have kept cephs in the past, you know that nothing in the tank is sacred—they will shift rock, coral, sand, plants, anything to fit their liking! Despite this, it is important to build them a stable shelter that they cannot tear down or collapse so that they have a safe haven in which to always return, despite their other redecorating6. GPs are nocturnal creatures by nature, but most will adapt to their human companion’s diurnal lifestyle. If your ceph is not acclimating in the way you hope, you can manipulate the day/night cycle using the specialized lighting in your GP’s tank so that your ceph companion is out and about during the hours in which you yourself are awake.

Another common-knowledge bit to get through of which I am sure you are all at least a little aware: octopuses are master escape artists, the Houdinis of the marine world. They can squeeze through any crack they can find that is larger than their beak (the only hard part in/on their bodies, as you may recall), so your GPs tank must be completely escape-proof. Despite what you read elsewhere about ceph-human bonds, your GP WILL try to escape. Yes, they are loving, affectionate creatures and a joy to own, but they are inquisitive problem-solvers by nature and will want to crack the code of their enclosure! Make sure all lids are tight, all holes that may be drilled into the tank for sumps or aerators are sealed, and that there are no other weak points whatsoever in the tank itself. I cannot stress this enough7.

Cephs, and octopuses in general, as I have detailed, are intelligent, sensitive, inquisitive creatures. They can recognize their handlers and have been known to embrace aquarium workers after long absences. They can experience a range of emotions recognizable/familiar to humans, such as depression, joy, distress, and longing. These behaviors have been carefully documented and observed in many cases around the country and the world8.

In captivity, it is quite common for GPs to suffer from anxiety and depression, just like humans. If they do not have adequate toys and puzzles in their enclosure or are not getting enough one on one time with their human companions, they may seem listless, lying around their tank in heaps (especially during the daytime hours, during which time they should be tucked away in their caves/other crevices), appear dull in color rather than their characteristically vibrant red. They may even fling themselves against the sides of their habitat. This is very dangerous behavior and should be taken quite seriously9.

If this occurs, make sure your ceph has plenty of toys and decorations in its enclosure to keep it happy and occupied. You might give it puzzles to work out, like putting its food in jars for it to open, supplying it with clear tubing connected to form mazes and tunnels for it to squeeze itself through, etc. If the behavior continues, more drastic measures should be taken. In countries around the globe (mostly Germany and Sweden), many hobbyists are buying not one, but two GPs for their home aquariums10. Most marine biologists continue to claim that these creatures are solitary, but when placed in close proximity to each other, the results have been astounding. They have been observed sharing caves, engaging in rolling, flailing play that has been described as “wrestling”, offering food to one another, and even sleeping with tentacles entwined11. This is very new, exciting behavior that has not yet been observed in the wild.

Another solution to ceph depression is, as I’ve mentioned, the building of mazes. One option is to take this maze building a step further and make it and extension of your GPs enclosure12. Building such enclosures will massively help your GP’s overall happiness and make for a more rewarding, fulfilling relationship on both ends. Some hobbyists in Germany have even gone so far as to create outdoor enclosures, digging deep pools and treating them similarly to the indoor enclosures can give your GP a sort of “vacation home” to enjoy13. This is a way that you and your GP can also engage in some physical bonding, which can also alleviate stress and anxiety in GPs14. Getting in the water with your GP can help build ceph-human bonds and be a stress reliever for both you and your ceph. Don’t fret about the size/strength of your GP—they are affectionate creatures and will love cuddling in close. This physical touch will make the pleasure of owning and caring for this unique, beautiful cephalopod that much more enriching, given that they only live 3 – 5 years in the wild and their lifespans in captivity may be even less15.

Hopefully the tips and suggestions in this chapter will help make Giant Pacific Octopus care and maintenance an enriching, fulfilling, loving, and rewarding experience for all parties. These are complex, delicate, and emotional animals, and should be treated with the utmost respect and understanding. I have already begun the steps in transforming my current home aquarium into a GP-friendly one, and plan to house my very own in the next coming months, assuming current legislation passes. Please write, call, or email me with any questions or experiences concerning your own GP care, and, as always, I cannot wait to hear your stories16.

Chapter 4: Feeding, Lighting, and Decoration

***I have included some new layouts/diagrams in the other attachments on this email, so be sure to take a look at those and include them with these additions. They are very small changes—wattages, timer limits, feeding charts, weight scales, etc.—that don’t need to be detailed here. The charts will do that work.

I hope these additions have been enough info for you and therefore the readers. Please let me know if you need any more info or if anything is unclear. I really appreciate it, Andrew. You’ve been such a help through all of this. On to the next edition! Haha—just joking with you. First we need to see if this one sells, eh? I hope to hear from you soon, and maybe see you in the office next week? We could finally find time to grab coffee?

☺ Rosie

  1. Although some have commented that some of these requirements are “excessive” or “overkill,” it is essential that they have multiple places to hide and rest!
  2. That is, if they live to adulthood, which as the learned aquarist knows, is rather tricky to accomplish in captivity if the arthropod is purchased as an infant.
  3. Felda and Rickon—and what lovely creatures they were!
  4. Dr. Van Hoff often pays a visit to the local fishmonger along the seaside for Felda and Rickon’s meals, as he lives in Rügen, an island off the Pomeranian coast in the Baltic Sea which belongs to the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. But I digress.
  5. Dr. Van Hoff utilizes a cylindrical 5,000 gallon tank that runs the height of his medium sized-apartment with a number of offshoots and additional areas to explore, the intricacies of which I will address in a few pages.
  6. Dr. Van Hoff has a number of caves built of plaster within Felda and Rickon’s enclosure and a few offshoots of the main tank that he has blacked out completely with a simple layer of paint. His cephs appreciate these refuges immensely, and many a morning I would find them tucked into various dark pockets of their ecosystem.
  7. As an example, Dr. Van Hoff told me a story about the first GP he owned (Delilah, rest her soul) who escaped not once, not twice, but five times before he was able to completely secure her enclosure! He found her in a different place every time, once under the bed in the guest room, another time in the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink, the tips of her bright tentacles clutching at the plumbing, and yet another halfway down the driveway, the mass of her shining wetly in the moonlight as rolled over and over herself and toward the road. He could see her reaching out and clutching at the gravel of his drive, and when he picked her up, she had a maze of dirt and grit wedged into the cups that blanketed her tentacles. He saved her each time, of course, and, after months of tinkering, was able to finally secure her and keep her safely inside her tank.
  8. Almost daily during my visit to Rugen, Dr. Van Hoff and I would spend hours interacting with Felda and Rickon, a few times even getting into the water with them! They are both quite large—Felda a little bigger, being the female—both nearly 40lbs and 12 feet long, and they could easily wrap their long arms around us. They would climb up their tanks to greet us, begging to be held and caressed! They would often tug and pull at us until we took them to their outside enclosure (I will tell you all about that in a few pages!) and, once there, constantly pull themselves up the edges of the pool to be closer to us. Sometimes they would go a little too far out into the yard and we would have to corral them back, of course, but they were always a joy to spend time with!
  9. Dr. Van Hoff said about a month or so before Delilah’s passing, she became quite listless. She had stopped escaping—he thinks due to all of the modifications he made to the tank—and would hide most of the day and night in her various caves. This was not so uncommon, but when Dr. Van Hoff went looking for her one day, he found her sprawled out in the open, nearly all of the pigment gone from her once brilliant arms. He held her for hours that night, her large suction cups plucking along the skin of his arms in weak, measured waves. Much later, close to dawn, she passed in his arms.
  10. Dr. Van Hoff made this change after Delilah with Felda and Rickon, and they’ve been doing wonderfully!
  11. Felda and Rickon can be found like this each and every night—the dears!
  12. Dr. Van Hoff himself has built a labyrinth of glass tubing around the walls and ceilings of his home, reminiscent of the ever popular “cat-walks” that some individuals have installed in their homes over the last few decades for their feline companions. Felda and Rickon absolutely adore it! As I said, they are able to tuck themselves into a whole slew of crevices and caves, are able to follow Dr. Van Hoff throughout his home, and keep themselves occupied and engaged!
  13. Like the one of Dr. Van Hoff’s I mentioned briefly earlier in this chapter.
  14. As I said, Felda and Rickon love it!
  15. Delilah passed at 1 ½, and Felda and Rickon are going on 4, bless them!
  16. The last time I was able to sit with Felda and Rickon in the pool, Dr. Van Hoff and I both had a good amount of gear on—flippers, goggles, snorkels, etc.—so that we were able to dive with them. The pool is about 15 feet deep and 10 feet across, quite large! Rickon is quite affectionate and often clutches to Dr. Van Hoff whenever he can. Felda, on the other hand, is much more solitary. She does enjoy the company of Rickon (as I’ve said, they often sleep with the tips of their tentacles entwined), but she is not so keen on human touch. However, this time, I followed her down to the bottom of the pool. Dr. Van Hoff has it lined with smooth stone, sort of like a swimming pool, but darker, so that the animals can feel more secure, as if they are in their very own ocean cavern. She often will sit at the bottom of the pool for hours, and I followed her down the sloping stone and into the dark as she made her way to her favorite spot. I saw her pull her thick arms into herself in the deepest dip of the pool, her body a thick mass in the gloom. I moved toward her, kicking slowly so as not to startle her. A few feet from her, I saw her stir. I slowed, reached out a hand to touch her. Her mantel was so soft, like the smoothest velvet, I could hardly feel it in the cold water. No sooner had I laid a hand upon her, I saw her spread out her great length, her body a dark net above me. She wrapped her long arms around me and squeezed. I was startled at first, but I knew from what Dr. Van Hoff had told me that that she had been known to engage in such behavior, and that she could have wrung me dry, so to speak, if she had really wanted.Now, I have been diving all my life, and thus am able to hold my breath for some time, but even I was becoming slightly panicked as she continued to hold me. I looked at her through my mask, letting a few air bubbles escape through the end of my snorkel. Her horizontal, goat-like eyes peered at me from the darkness. I could feel her black beak plucking at my wetsuit, thick and pointed as a macaw’s. I began to shift my weight, trying to free myself. She tightened for a moment, and just before my panic peaked, she released me. I kicked madly to the surface, and as I broke through the cold water, Dr. Van Hoff stared at me from the rocky shore, Rickon’s red arms draped over his thighs. He asked me what the matter was. ‘Nothing,’ I said, not wanting to startle him or Rickon. I felt Felda’s tentacle brush my ankle in the dark water, and I kicked back to shore to sit with the Doctor. We stared out at the dark water until sunset, gathered the creatures into their rolling tubs, and wheeled them back into the glow of the house.

account_box More About

Justine McNulty obtained her MA in fiction at the University of Cincinnati in 2014. She has published work in The Master's Review: New Voices, Juked, Confrontation Magazine, Miracle Monocle, and others. She currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her husband Luke, guinea pig Rory, and cat Marceline.