“Tentacles: The Astounding Lives of Octopuses, Squid and Cuttlefishes” Species Highlights and Gallery Tour

“Tentacles” is a sensory extravaganza of live exhibits and interactive experiences in four galleries that highlight a group of animals that has captured the human imagination for thousands of years. Visitors explore the intriguing lives of cephalopods as they come face-to-face with multi-armed creatures – octopuses, squids, cuttlefishes and nautiluses – and learn why these species are endlessly fascinating.

Over the multi-year life of the exhibition, visitors might see any of two dozen species that will rotate through a dozen living exhibits. “Tentacles” is the largest, most diverse living exhibition ever created to showcase these cryptic creatures. 


What exactly is a cephalopod? Visitors will learn that all cephalopods – octopuses, squid, cuttlefishes and nautiluses – share a common body structure that includes a head and eyes, arms and tentacles, and a beak and radula (a flexible, file-like tongue covered by small teeth). A colorful school of bigfin reef squid greet visitors from a 1,900-gallon exhibit with a 8-foot window, setting the stage for the epic experience to follow.

Bigfin reef squid
Sepioteuthis lessoniana
This Indo-Pacific species enjoys warmer waters and may be mistaken for its relative, the cuttlefish, because of the oval fin that extends around its mantle like translucent frills framing its body. Bigfin reef squid can grow to 13 inches long. While other squid are lone rangers in the ocean, when bigfin reef squid encounter a predator this savvy species schools together into one long line in order to appear larger.


Octopuses’ ability to contort their form and coloration to camouflage with their environment is entrancing and makes them exceptionally successful survivors at sea. In this gallery visitors explore why octopuses are both revered and feared in art and literature, as well as discovering what distinguishes them from their cephalopod relatives. 

Day octopus
Octopus cyanea
While most octopuses hunt at night, this species spends its days stalking crabs, clams and fishes. The day octopus roams the reefs in tropical waters from Hawaii to East Africa and can transform its skin into long, lumpy ridges, mimicking nearby corals, rocks or algae. The 3-foot-long predators are short-lived animals, surviving just one year and breeding only once. 

Two-spot octopus
Octopus bimaculoides
Glowing blue circular eyespots on each side of its head may trick predators and prey alike into thinking that the blue-eyed beauty marks are its actual eyes. Meanwhile the cunning two-spot octopus lives to see another night while feasting on a shelled morsel. Found in deep waters from central to northern Baja, California. 

Wunderpus photogenicus
If there were a superhero cephalopod the wunderpus would be a strong contender. Colored copper-brown with elaborate pearl-white stripes and spots all over its body, this master of disguise changes its color, shape and movements to mimic other sea animals. In a flash it transforms into a lethal lionfish, swimming past a potential predator; the next nanosecond it mutates again. Its range is the IndoMalayan archipelago. 

Giant Pacific octopus
Enteroctopus dofleini
The largest octopus, this reddish-pink beauty grows to about 16 feet, weighs 50 to 110 pounds, and lives approximately 4 years. Its eight arms are covered with over 2,000 suction cups, giving this octopus an iron grip and keen sense of taste and smell. Females lay 18,000 to 74,000 eggs that she hangs from the roof of her den for seven months or until the young hatch, fanning them with her arms, or contracting her body to shoot streams of oxygen-rich water over the eggs. The den provides a haven for brooding eggs and for the mother octopus to feed in peace. Natural range in the wild is from Japan to Alaska and south through Baja, California.

Squid and Nautiluses

In the third gallery, visitors encounter animals that more closely resemble octopuses (the squid) and also meet living fossils of the sea (nautiluses) that are also related to their nonshelled neighbors. In this gallery, a unique interactive experience lets visitors create “cephalopod selfies” by transforming the color and pattern of their faces to mimic the survival skills of this adept family of animals. 

Chambered nautilus
Nautilus pompilius
Although the chambered nautilus looks least like its relatives, it has actually changed the least in the last 500 million years. It’s the only remaining cephalopod with an external shell and only one of two cephalopods, without an ink sac. Unlike octopuses, squid and cuttlefishes, the nautilus kept its stunning shell, which is well known for its elaborate internal Fibonacci spiral pattern. The shell offers protection and chambers within the shell provide buoyancy control, permitting this Indo-Pacific beauty to move up and down in the water column to hunt at the surface and find protection in the depths.

Hawaiian bobtail squid
Euprymna scolopes
As its name implies, this species is native to the Pacific Ocean where it can be found in shallow coastal waters off of Hawaii. The bobtail squid is akin to a wizard with its own invisibility cloak due to its symbiotic relationship with a bioluminescent bacteria that lives in its mantle. When the pear-shaped squid leaves the safety of the seafloor to hunt at night, the bacteria hides the squid’s silhouette by matching the amount of light hitting the top of its mantle, making it virtually invisible when viewed from below.

Egg lab
Visitors sneak a peek into the groundbreaking techniques used by aquarium marine biologists to rear squid, octopuses and cuttlefishes that populate the “Tentacles” exhibition. One such innovation cost as little as a $3 bottle of soda pop. “A Better Bubbler” exemplifies one innovative method that repurposes used plastic bottles while improving breeding success in order to reduce the pressure to collect wild stocks of these cryptic creatures.

Deep sea species
Cephalopods are found from the poles to the tropics, in tide pools and even in the deep ocean. The aquarium will continue to explore the depths of Monterey Canyon with our colleagues at the independent Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in the hope of occasionally exhibiting living deep sea members of this intriguing family – potentially including the vampire squid. Chilled seawater supplies are available in this gallery if collection efforts prove successful. 


Like their other close relatives, cuttlefishes have three hearts, an ink sac, head and eyes, and survive by changing the color, shape and texture of their skin. They are named for their unique internal shell, the cuttlebone. Squid and cuttlefishes have two additional retractable tentacles along with their eight arms to help with catching prey. In this final gallery visitors learn about cuttlefishes’ stealthy survival skills and what distinguishes them from their multi-armed relatives. 

Broadclub cuttlefish
Sepia latimanus
One of the hypnotic heavyweights in the cuttlefish family, the broadclub cuttlefish is the second largest cuttlefish species, with eight arms and two feeding tentacles. This cunning predator hypnotizes prey with flashing, colored bands that ripple along its skin, while its two larger, club-like arms strike at lightning speed to capture the unsuspecting morsel. The broadclub cuttlefish will be one of several species that will rotate on and off exhibit throughout the exhibitions run. This species can be found in Indo-Pacific waters from Southeast Asia to northern Australia. 

Flamboyant cuttlefish
Metasepia pfefferi
The flamenco dancers among cuttlefishes, the flamboyant cuttlefish is a perpetual color machine, continually flashing vibrant yellow, maroon, brown, white and red along its body. This small but feisty cuttlefish can be found from Papua New Guinea to northern Australia, walking along the seafloor on arms and fins – a rarer mode of transit for these otherwise adept swimmers.

Stumpy cuttlefish
Sepia bandensis
A squat species that forages along the seafloor, the stumpy cuttlefish may be small in size, but it’s a mighty hunter. It hunkers down among rocks, coral, sand and algae, effortlessly blending with its environment. Once out of sight, the stumpy cuttlefish ambushes unsuspecting prey and continues to mosey along the ocean bottom on its lower arms. Its native range is from Malaysia to the Philippines.