Common octopus | European Tracking Network

Common octopus

Octopus vulgaris

Image: David Abecasis ©


Species description and status: The Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris, Cuvier, 1797), is a species with high economic and ecological value, widely distributed throughout the Mediterranean and Northeast Atlantic presenting morphological differences at population level across its distributional range [1,2,3] (Fig. 1). It is a merobenthic species found from the coast out to the outer edge of the continental shelf (200 m). This species constitutes an important fishery resource, taken throughout the year as a target species in bottom trawls and small-scale coastal fisheries, using hand jigs, pots, trammel nets and traps in depths between 20 and 200 m. This cephalopod represents a high local economic and social importance in southern Europe [4]. Common Octopus landings have drastically declined over the last decades, although reported total landings typically fluctuate from year to year [5]. Like most of the cephalopods, the fast-life history of this species is extremely modulated by environmental cues [6]. For instance, O. vulgaris presents a pelagic paralarval phase highly dependent on oceanographic conditions [e.g.,7,8] while after settlement, the characteristics of the bottom may be the main factor influencing octopus survival, and therefore population density, migrations, and distribution patterns [9,10].

Fig 1. Distributions of Common octopus (O. vulgaris sensu stricto; in purple) and close relatives (species ‘Types’, previously considered the same species) [3].


Knowledge gaps: Given its high socio-ecological importance, several studies provide broad information about the biology and ecology of this species. Common octopus is considered a sedentary species although capable of seasonal movements, mainly vertically oriented (in/offshore) at different times; however, some octopuses probably do not vertically migrate, such as those which spawn in deeper waters or stay near the coast during the winter [11-13]. Plausibly, if the habitat offers food, shelter, and mating opportunities, octopuses are not forced to undertake long-distance movements [14]. Therefore, common octopus population dynamics, spatial ecology and movement patterns of common octopus are not fully understood nowadays.

Regions of interest: Atlantic and Mediterranean continental shelf. At local scale (short- movement patterns): to understand spatial ecology of this species under different environments (e.g., Mediterranean vs. Atlantic). At large-scale (migrations), to disentangling potential connectivity between regions and stocks (e.g. coastal vs. deep-waters).

Telemetry tools: The fast life cycle (tracking time is reduced to ~1 year), highly capacity of hiding in dens and caves [9,15] (blocking acoustic signals) and the soft tissue of this invertebrate (difficult to place and hold a tag in its soft body) are presented as main handicaps to address tagging studies with this species. On the other hand, O. vulgaris is an opportunistic species, capable of quickly adapting to different environments [11, 16,17], and therefore, being present where other species might not be. Few mark-and recapture studies using classical techniques (i.e., T-bar, Petersen discs) and passive integrated transponders (PIT-tags) have  been successfully applied on this species [14,18-22]. The family of small-size acoustic tags are presented as a good tools to address the spatial ecology of this species, and the ITAG (invertebrate tag) open a new possibility window to address fine-scale behavioural movements of soft-bodied marine invertebrates[23,24].

Benefits: Understand the spatial ecology of one of the most important cephalopods in European and North-African waters providing essential information (life-history and population dynamics parameters, daily activity and large-scale movements, etc.) to achieve a sustainable management of this high valuable resource. Additionally, given the fast response to environmental conditions, common octopus is presented as a key species to address big ecological questions subjected to high pressures by human activities and closely related with climatic chance.

Previous projects on Common octopus: OctoPITs - Mark-and-recapture project focused on determining the home-range and population dynamics of this species is coastal shallow waters under the influence of high human activity in Balearic islands, Spain. Individuals of the species O. vulgaris were tagged using PIT-tags (AVID®; model MUSICC). Some research groups in Spain and Portugal are working to develop different techniques for attaching acoustic transmitters (in order to improve the retention time) without affecting the natural behaviour of the individual.

Contacts: Pablo Arechavala-Lopez (

[1] Jereb, P., Allcock, A.L., Lefkaditou, E., Piatkowski, U., Hastie, L.C., Pierce, G.J. 2015. Cephalopod biology and fisheries in Europe: II. Species Accounts. ICES Cooperative Research Report No. 325, (360 pp.).

[2] De Luca, D., Catanese, G., Procaccini, G., Fiorito, G., 2016. Octopus vulgaris (Cuvier, 1797) in the Mediterranean Sea: genetic diversity and population structure. PLoS One 11 (2), e0149496.

[3] Amor, M. D., Norman, M. D., Roura, A., Leite, T. S., Gleadall, I. G., Reid, A., Perales-Raya, C., et al. 2017. Morphological assessment of the Octopus vulgaris species complex evaluated in light of molecular-based phylogenetic inferences. Zoologica Scripta, 46: 275–288.

[4] Pierce, G. J., Allcock, L., Bruno, I., Bustamante, P., González, A., Guerra, A., Jereb, P., et al. 2010. Cephalopod biology and fisheries in Europe. ICES, Copenhagen, Denmark, 175 pp. ISBN 978-87-7482-078-9.

[5] FAO, 2018. Species fact sheets: Octopus vulgaris (Lamarck, 1798). FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture

[6] Pierce, G. J., Valavanis, V. D., Guerra, A., Jereb, P., Orsi-Relini, L., Bellido, J. M., Katara, I., et al. 2008. A review of cephalopod– environment interactions in European Seas. Hydrobiologia, 612: 49–70.

[7] Otero, J., Alvarez-Salgado, X. A., González, A. F., Miranda, A., Groom, S. B., Cabanas, J. M., Casas, G., et al. 2008. Bottom-up control of common octopus Octopus vulgaris in the Galician upwelling system, northeast Atlantic Ocean. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 362: 181– 192,

[8] Otero, J., Alvarez-Salgado, X. A., González, A. F., Gilcoto, M., and Guerra, A . 2009. High-frequency coastal upwelling events influence Octopus vulgaris larval dynamics on the NW Iberian shelf. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 386: 123–132.

[9] Guerra, A., Hernández-Urcera, J., Garci, M. E., Sestelo, M., Regueira, M., González, A. F., and Cabanellas-Reboredo, M. 2014. Dwellers in dens on sandy bottoms: ecological and behavioural traits of Octopus vulgaris. Scientia Marina, 78: 405–414.

[10] Guerra, A., Hernández-Urcera, J., Garci, M. E., Sestelo, M., Regueira, M., González, A. F., and Cabanellas-Reboredo, M. 2015. Spawning habitat selection by Octopus vulgaris: new insights for a more effective management of this resource. Fisheries Research, 167: 313–322.

[11] Mangold, K. 1983. Octopus vulgaris. Cephalopod Life Cycles, 1:335–364.

[12] Faraj, A., and Bez, N. 2007. Spatial considerations for the Dakhla stock of Octopus vulgaris: indicators, patterns, and fisheries interactions. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 64: 1820–1828.

[13] Alonso-Fernández, A., Otero, J., Bañón, R., Campelos, J. M., Santos, J., and Mucientes, G. 2017. Sex ratio variation in an exploited population of common octopus: ontogenic shifts and spatio-temporal dynamics. Hydrobiologia, 794: 1–16.

[14] Arechavala-Lopez, P., Minguito-Frutos, M., Follana-Berná, G., Palmer, M., 2018. Common octopus settled in human-altered Mediterranean coastal waters: from individual home range to population dynamics. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 76 (2): 585–597.

[15] Katsanevakis, S., and Verriopoulos, G. 2004. Den ecology of Octopus vulgaris Cuvier, 1797, on soft sediment: availability and types of shelter. Scientia Marina, 68: 147–157.

[16] Sillero-Ríos, J. M., Sureda, A., Capó, X., Oliver-Codorniú, M., and Arechavala-Lopez, P. 2018. Biomarkers of physiological responses of Octopus vulgaris to different coastal environments in the western Mediterranean Sea. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 128: 240–247.

[17]Arechavala-Lopez, P., Capó, X., Oliver-Codorniú, M., Sillero-Rios, J., Busquets-Cortés, C., Sanchez-Jerez, P., & Sureda, A. 2019. Fatty acids and elemental composition as biomarkers of Octopus vulgaris populations: Does origin matter?. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 139, 299- 310.

[18] Domain, F., Jouffre, D., and Caverivière, A. 2000. Growth of Octopus vulgaris from tagging in Senegalese waters. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 80: 699–705.

[19] Fuentes, L., and Iglesias, J. 2010. Release experiments with Octopus vulgaris Cuvier, 1797 in Galicia, NW Spain. First results on recapture rate, distribution and growth. Vie et Milieu—Life and Environment, 60: 65–71.

[20] Mereu, M., Agus, B., Addis, P., Cabiddu, S., Cau, A., Follesa, M. C., and Cuccu, D. 2015. Movement estimation of Octopus vulgaris Cuvier, 1797 from mark recapture experiment. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 470: 64–69.

[21] Mereu, M., Agus, B., Cannas, R., Cau, A., Coluccia, E., and Cuccu, D. 2015. Mark–recapture investigation on Octopus vulgaris specimens in an area of the central western Mediterranean Sea. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 95: 131–138.

[22] Mereu, M., Masala, P., Maccioni, A., Stacca, D., Cau, A., and Cuccu, D. 2010. Tagging Octopus vulgaris (Octopoda: Octopodidae) in an area of central western Sardinian waters. Biologia Marina Mediterranea, 17: 306–307.

[23] Flaspohler, G.E.; Caruso, F.; Mooney, T.A.; Katija, K.; Fontes, J.; Afonso, P.; Shorter, K.A. Quantifying the swimming gaits of veined squid (Loligo forbesi) using bio-logging tags. J. Exp. Biol. 2019, jeb.198226.

[24] Mooney, T.A.; Katija, K.; Shorter, K.A.; Hurst, T.; Fontes, J.; Afonso, P. ITAG: an eco-sensor for fine-scale behavioral measurements of soft-bodied marine invertebrates. Anim. Biotelemetry 2015, 3, 31.