I met an octopus. Here’s what I learned


Sea-Life Aquarium at Concord Mills is home to Ruby, a young giant pacific octopus undergoing “octopus enrichment.” Trained aquarists are teaching her tasks designed to stimulate her mentally and physically.

Eventually, they say, she will have the mental capacity of a 5-year-old child. When my son was 5 he was still regularly getting his head stuck in the bannister and jumping off the counter because he thought he could fly, so that claim does not seem unreasonable to me.

The public can watch the aquarists work with Ruby every day at 2:15 p.m. Visit the Sea-Life Aquarium website to see admission rates and specials. On Mother’s Day, moms get in for free with the purchase of a child ticket.


I went to meet Ruby and some of the folks who work with her and this is what I learned. (Some of the questions are from 4th, 5th and 6th grade students at Countryside Montessori School.)

(1) Ruby is learning to paint and to solve puzzles. She can open jars and play with Mr. Potato Head, putting the face-parts into the holes. She doesn’t put the nose where it should go, but neither did my son when he was 5 so that doesn’t make me think less of her.

(2) When she’s relaxed she’s a dark red. When she’s frightened or agitated she turns bright white. So she’s like a mood ring.


(3) She does not have a sea horse for a pet. (Question from a kid.) However there are a couple of starfish and sea urchin in her tank.

(4) She can operate all her tentacles independently, so she might hold onto something with a couple arms and feel around with the others. (Another kid question.)

(5) Speaking of which, yes, they are called arms. That’s actually more scientifically accurate than calling them tentacles.

(6) She’s from the wild and is probably a little under a year old. When she’s fully grown her head will be the size of a basketball and her arms could each be 7 feet long.


(7) Ruby’s favorite person in the world is an aquarist named Carly.

(8) Octopuses are sometimes right- or left-handed, favoring one side of arms over the other. (Yet another kid question.) But Ruby seems pretty ambidextrous so far.

(9) The suckers on her arms have taste buds so she’s always tasting her environment.

(10) Doubt Ruby can learn some tricks? An octopus in New Zealand has learned how to manipulate a camera to take pictures of visitors. (Note: Dogs have been taught to drive cars in New Zealand, so they might be a little ahead of the game.)

Photos: Jody Mace, Sea Life Aquarium


head shotJody Mace is a freelance writer who also publishes the local website Charlotte on the Cheap. Follow Charlotte on the Cheap at @cltcheap and everything else she does at @jody_mace.


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