Cephalopods for the home aquarium review


Michelle Stuart reviews the book 'Cephalopods: octopuses and cuttlefishes for the home aquarium' by Colin Dunlop and Nancy King.

I have no experience keeping cephalopods, however I’ve had a marine tank for many years and have a keen interest in learning more about various animals. This was a book on my wish list since the moment I heard it was being published. There are very few books available about this interesting group of invertebrates, especially one geared more towards the home aquarist.

I loved the natural history section of the book and would have enjoyed reading more. It’s nice to know more about the environment these creatures evolved in and how long they have been around on earth, and how they’ve been portrayed throughout human history. I find this gives the prospective keeper a deeper appreciation for these animals.

I also enjoyed the section about cephalopod enrichment activities, such as explaining how to teach an octopus to open jars, along with other methods of testing their intellectual abilities.

You can tell that the authors take the welfare of the animals seriously. They really emphasise the fact that you will need to feed cephalopods live foods and that the chances of weaning them on to dead/prepared foods is very slim. They explain why this is the case very well and stress it often.

The book also includes some some very good information on the various cephalopods available and how to obtain them —  and the authors geared their comments towards the UK and US markets.

However, I have a couple of issues with this publication. The biggest niggle I had was that the photographs didn’t have captions to describe either the species of octopus/cuttlefish — or if there was something special we were meant to look for. For the most part it appears that the images were added to fill space and to grab a person’s attention, but they weren’t really informative enough.

I felt that they could have done a much better job of giving ideas on how to proof a tank against escape.

I realise there are a lot of different tank systems on the market, so they can’t give a lot of system specific information, however it would have been nice for the authors to show a few example tanks and explain what worked and didn’t/wouldn’t work for those particular systems.

The book would have benefited from a section describing some of the basic information needed to identify various cephalopods.

They did mention that it was difficult even for experts to accurately identify many different species on appearance alone. Instead they recommended enthusiasts to do more research and included a link to a website the authors are involved with to get more information.

Overall, I was extremely pleased with the contents of the book. It was easy to read and understand and I learned a lot about the care of various cephalopods. I even found out about the argonauts — a family I had never heard of.  

This is a good investment for people who are looking into setting up a cephalopod aquarium and for those interested in learning more about cephalopods in general.

It will definitely let you know what you are getting yourself in for; the shortcomings and rewards of keeping cephalopods. This is a book I would highly recommend.


Product: Cephalopods, by Nancy King and Colin Dunlop

Price: $39.95 (£24.30). Reviewer: Michelle Stuart

Rating: 4/5

Target audience: Advanced/experienced fishkeepers


  • Informative natural history section
  • Emphasises the importance of proper and adequate diet
  • Discusses the various common and most suitable cephalopods available
  • Interesting section on cephalopod enrichment


  • Photos need more/better captions
  • More examples required for escape proofing an octopus tank
  • Needs more information on how to identify various cephalopods

This item was first published in the August 2009 issue of Practical Fishkeeping magazine. It may not be reproduced without written permission.